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PRECIOUS 

BANE 

BY MARY WEBB 


WIT AN INTRODUCTION BY 

STANLEY ALDWIN 


THE 

MODERN LIBRARY 


NEW YORK 



Fmt Published 

1926, BY E P. DUTTON 8c CO., INC. 

All Rights Reserved 



Random House IS THE PUBLISHER OF 
THE MODERN LIBRARY 


BENNETT A CERF DONALD S KLOPFBR ROBERT K HAAS 

Manufactured m the United States of America 
By H Wolff 



MARY MEREDITH WEBB 
(1881-1927) 


A NOTE ON THE AUTHOR OF “PRECIOUS BANE” 

Mary Webb died in 1927 almost unnoticed She had 
lived obscurely m the village of Shrewsbury, a frail 
woman m delicate health who had to earn her living 
by raising vegetables and flowers and selling them in 
person at market. The daughter of a schoolmaster, 
George Edward Meredith, she received her education 
at home, except for two year§ ^pf schooling at South- 
port At thirty she married Henry B L Webb, and 
together they tried to eke out a living from a grudg- 
ing land. The dream of writing found its first reality 
in a novel, The Golden Arrow > published in 1916 
There followed Gone to Earth , The House m Dormer 
Forest and Seven for a Secret All of these novels 
suffered the same indifference that the world had shown 
their author Then she wrote Precious Bane. A hand- 
ful of people were moved by it and sung its praises 
It was awarded the Pnx Femma as the best English 
novel of 1925 Like its predecessors, Precious Bane 
might have languished unnoticed by the world at large 
and its author, now dead at 46, might have been for- 
gotten, had not a busy Prime Minister, Stanley Bald' 
win, paused to introduce and champion Mary Webb in 
1928 Then the world began to take notice, and post- 
humously, at least, a dream of fame was fulfilled for 
the author of Precious Bane. 




my dear 

H.B.L.W. 




ntroductio 

M ary Meredith, the author of Pmio 

Bane, was born in the little village of Leighton, 
near Cressage, under the Wrekm, on March 25 th^ 
1881, and died at St Leonards, October 8th, 1927, 
and was buried at Shrewsbury. She was the daughter 
of George Edward Meredith, a schoolmaster of Welsh 
descent, by his marriage with Sarah Alice Scott, 
daughter of an Edinburgh doctor of the clan of Sir 
Walter Scott She was the eldest of six children and 
spent her early girlhood at The Grange, a small 
country house near Much Wenlock; from 12 to 21 
she lived at Stanton-on-Hme-Heath, six miles north- 
east of Shrewsbury, and for the next ten years at The 
Old Mill, Meole Brace, a mile from Shrewsbury I 
1912 Mary Meredith married Mr. Henry Bertram 
Law Webb, a Cambridge graduate and a native of 
Shropshire After two years at Weston-super-Mare, 
where Mr. Webb had a post m a school, Mr. and Mrs. 
Webb returned to Shropshire, living at Pontesbury 
and Lyth Hill, working as market gardeners nd 
selling the produce at their own stall in Shrewsbury 
market Mrs. Webb had written stories and poems 
from childhood, but it was at this period that she 
seriously turned her mind to writing novels. A volume 
of essays on nature, The Spring of Joy, and thr 
ovels, The Golden Arrow, Gone to Earth, nd The 


1 



INT ODUCTION 


House in Dormer Forest, had been published before 
she came to live in London m 1921. Seven for a Secret 
followed m 1922 and Precious Borne m 1924 It was 
awarded the “Femma Vie Heureuse” Prize for 1924-5 
given annually for the best work of imagination in 
prose or verse descriptive of English life by an author 
who had not attained sufficient recognition. 

I am indebted for these biographical particulars to 
Mr Webb to whom Precious Bane is inscribed. I 
never met Mary Webb and knew nothing of her work 
until I read Precious Bane at Christmas, 1926. I am 
glad to think that I was m time to send her a few 
words of appreciation 

The stupid urban view of the countryside as dull 
receives a fresh and crushing answer in the books of 
Mary Webb All the novels except Precious Bane are 
set in the hill country of south-west Shropshire, be- 
tween the Clee Hills and the Breiddens, and between 
Shrewsbury and Ludlow. The scene of Precious Bane 
is the country of north Shropshire meres — the Elles- 
mere district, but the dialect is that of south Shrop- 
shire It is the country of the Severn lowlands and of 
isolated upland ridges where Celt and Saxon have 
met and mingled for centuries For the passing 
traveller it is inhabited by an uncommunicative popu- 
lation dwelling among places with names like Sted- 
ment and Squilver and Stiperstone, Nipstone and 
Nind There are of course the old castles and timbered 
black and white houses for the motoring visitors But 
to the imaginative child brought up among the plough- 
lands and pools and dragonflies there is “a richness 
on the world, so it looked what our parson used to call 



IKTRODUCTI N 


sumptuous.” It is this richness which Mary Webb s w 
and felt as a girl and remembered with lyrical intensity 
as a woman. 

She has interlaced with this natural beauty the tragic 
drama of a youth whose whole being is bent on toil 
and thrift and worldly success only to find himself 
defeated on the morrow of the harvest by the firing of 
the cornricks by the father of his lover. The dour 
figure of Gideon Sarn is set against that of his gentle 
sister, Prudence, who tells the tale She is a woma 
flawed with a hare-shotten lip and cursed in the eyes 
of the neighbours until her soul’s loveliness is 
discerned by Kester Woodseaves, the weaver. And so 
there comes to her at the end of the story the love 
which is “the peace to which all hearts do strive.” 

The strength of the book is not in its insight into 
human character, though that is not lacking. Nor does 
it lie in the inevitability with which the drama is un- 
folded and the sin of an all-absorbing and selfish am- 
bition punished It lies in the fusion of the elements 
of nature and man, as observed in this remote country- 
side by a woman even more alive to the changi 
moods of nature than of man Almost any page at 
random will furnish an illustration of the blending o 
human passion with the fields and skies 

“So they rode away, and the sound of the people died 
till it was less than the hum of a midge, and there was 
nothing but a scent of rosemary, and warm sun, and 
the horse lengthening its stride towards the moun- 
tains, whence came the air of morning” (p. 117). 

One reviewer compared Precious Bane to a sa pier 



XU 


INT ODUCTION 


stitched through long summer evenings in the bay 
window of a remote farmhouse. And sometimes writ- 
ers of Welsh and Border origin, like William Morris, 
have had their work compared to old tapestries. But 
while these comparisons suggest something of the 
harmonies of colour they fail to convey the emotional 
force which glows in these pages. Nature to Mary 
Webb was not a pattern on a screen. Her sensibility 
is so acute and her power over words so sure and swift 
that one who reads some passages in Whitehall has 
almost the physical sense of being in Shropshire corn- 
fields. 

Precious Bane is a revelation not of unearthly but 
of earthly beauty in one bit of the England of 
Waterloo, the Western edge, haunted with the shad- 
ows of superstition, the legendary lore and phantasy 
of neighbours on the Border, differing in blood and 
tongue. This mingling of peoples and traditions and 
turns of speech and proverbial wisdom is what Mary 
Webb saw with the eye of the mind as she stood at 
her stall in Shrewsbury market, fastened in her 
memory, and fashioned for us in the little parcel of 
novels which is her legacy to literature 

STANL Y ALDWIN 

io Downing Street, S.W.l. 

October, 1928 



Foreword 


TO conjure, even for a moment, the wistfulness 
which is the past is like trying to gather in one’s 
arms the hyacinthme colour of the distance. But if 
it is once achieved, what sweetness! — like the gentle, 
fugitive fragrance of spring flowers, dried with berga- 
mot and bay. How the tears will spring in the read- 
ing of some old parchment — “to my dear child, my 
tablets and my ring” — or of yellow letters, with the 
love still fresh and fair in them though the ink is faded 
— “and so good night, my dearest heart, and God send 
you happy ” That vivid present of theirs, how faint 
it grows ! The past is only the present become invisible 
and mute; and because it is invisible and mute, its 
memoried glances and its murmurs are infinitely 
precious We are to-morrow’s past. Even now we 
slip away like those pictures painted on the moving 
dials of antique clocks — a ship, a cottage, sun and 
moon, a nosegay. The dial turns, the ship rides up 
and sinks again, the yellow painted sun has set, and 
we, that were the new thing, gather magic as we go. 
The whirr of the spinning-wheels has ceased in our 
parlours, and we hear no more the treadles of the 
loom, the swift, silken noise of the flung shuttle, the 
intermittent thud of the batten. But the imagination 
hears them, and theirs is the melody of romance. 

When antique things are also country things, they 



FOREWORD 


jdv 

are easier to write about, for there is a permanence, a 
continuity in country life which makes the lapse of 
centuries seem of little moment 

Shropshire is a county where the dignity and 
beauty of ancient things lingers long, and I have been 
fortunate not only in being bom and brought up in its 
magical atmosphere, and in having many friends in 
farm and cottage who, by pleasant talk and reminis- 
cence have fired the imagination, but also in having the 
companionship of such a mind as was my father's — • 
a mind stored with old tales and legends that did not 
come from books, and rich with an abiding love for 
the beauty of forest and harvest field, all the more 
intense, perhaps, because it found little opportunity for 
expression. 

In treating of the old subject of sin-eating I am 
aware that William Sharpe has forestalled me and has 
written with consummate art. But sin-eaters were as 
well known on the Welsh border as in Scotland, and 
John Aubrey tells of one who lived “in a cottage on 
Rosse highway/' and was a “lamentable poore raskell " 

My thanks are due to the authors of Shropshire 
Folk Lore for the rhymes of “Green Gravel" and 
“Barley Bridge," and for the verification of various 
customs which I had otherwise only known by hear- 
say, and to the Somerset weavers, who recently let me 
see both hand looms and spinning wheels in use. 


March, 1926. 


A Y WEBB 



Contents 


BOOK ONE 

CHAP. PAG 

] SARN MERE I 

2 TELLING THE BEES 7 

3 PRUE TAKES THE BIDDING LETTERS 22 

4 TORCHES AND ROSEMARY 27 

5 THE FIRST SWATH FALLS 36 

6 ^SADDLE YOUR DREAMS BEFORE YOU RIDE 'EM” 47 

7 PIPPINS AND JARGONELLES 57 

BOOK TWO 

1 RIDING TO MARKET 65 

2 THE MUG OF CIDER 80 

3 "or die in 'tempting it" 91 

4 the wizard of plash 99 

5 the love-spinning 106 

6 THE GAME OF COSTLY COLOURS 114 

7 "the maister be come" 128 

8 RAISING VENUS 1 34 

9 THE GAME OF CONQUER I4.I 

BOOK THREE 

$ THE HIRING FAIR 1 57 

2 THE BAITING 171 

3 "the best tall script, flourished" 183 

4 JANCIS RUNS AWAY 1 99 

5 dragon-flies 227 


XV 



XVI 


CONTENTS 


BOOK FOUR 


CHAP. 


PAGE 

I HARVEST HOME 


239 

2 BECUILDY SEEKS A SEVENTH CHILD 

262 

3 THE DEATHLY BANE 


286 

4 ALL ON A MAY MORNING 


301 

5 THE LAST GAME OF CONQUER 


32S 

6 THE BREAKING OF THE MERE 


336 

7 “open THE GATES AS WIDE AS t 

S Y” 

35 T 



PRECIOUS ANE 




PRECIOUS BANE 


Book One 

c apter one: Sarn Mere 

r T was at a love-spinning that I saw Kester first. Ana 
if, in these new-fangled days, when strange invent 
tions crowd upon us, when I hear tell there is even a 
machine coming into use in some parts of the country 
for reaping and mowing, if those that mayhappen will 
read this don't know what a love-spmning was, they 
shall hear in good time. But though it was Jancis 
Beguildy’s love-spinning, she being three-and-twenty 
at that time and I being two years less, yet that is not 
the beginning of the story I have set out to tell. 

Kester says that all tales, true tales or romancings, 
go farther back than the days of the child , aye, farther 
even than the little babe in its cot of rushes. Maybe 
you never slept in a cot of rushes ; but all of us did at 
Sarn There is such a plenty of rushes at Sarn, and 
old Beguildy’s missus was a great one for plaitin 
them on rounded barrel-hoops. Then they’d be set 
on rockers, and a nice clean cradle they made, soft and 
green, so that the babe could feel as big-sorted as a 
little caterpillar (painted butterflies-as-is-to-be, Kester 



2 


PRECIOUS BANE 


calls them) sleeping m its cocoon Kester ’s very set 
about such things Never will he say caterpillars 
He’ll say, 'There’s a lot of butterflies-as-is-to-be on 
our cabbages, Prue ” He won’t say "It’s winter.” 
He’ll say, "Summer’s sleeping ” And there’s no bud 
little enough nor sad-coloured enough for Kester not 
to callen it the beginnings of the blow. 

But the time is not yet come for speaking of Kester. 
It is the story of us all at Sarn, of Mother and Gideon 
and me, and Janas (that was so beautiful), and Wizard 
Beguildy, and the two or three other folk that lived in 
those parts, that I did set out to tell. There were but 
a few, and maybe always will be, for there’s a dis- 
couragement about the place. It may be the water 
lapping, year in and year out — everywhere you look 
and listen, water; or the big trees waiting and con- 
sidering on your right hand and on your left; or the 
unbreathing quiet of the place, as if it was created but 
an hour gone, and not created for us Or it may be 
that the soil is very poor and marshy, with little nature 
or goodness m the grass, which is ever so where reeds 
and rushes grow in plenty, and the flower of the paigle 
Happen you call it cowslip, but we always named it the 
paigle, or keys of heaven It was a wonderful thing 
to see our meadows at Sarn when the cowslip was in 
blow Gold-over they were, so that you would think 
not even an angel’s feet were good enough to walk 
there. You could make a tossy-ball before a thrush 
had gone over his song twice, for you’d only got to 
sit down and gather with both hands. Every way you 
looked, there was nought but gold, saving towards 
Sarn, where the woods began, and the great stretch of 



SARN MERE 


3 


grey water, gleaming and wincing in the sun. Neither 
woods nor water looked darksome m that fine spring 
weather, with the leaves coming new, and buds the 
colour of com in the birch-tops. Only in our oak 
wood there was always a look of the back-end of the 
year, their young leaves being so brown. So there 
was always a breath of October in our May. But it 
was a pleasant thing to sit m the meadows and look 
away to the far hills The larches spired up in their 
quick green, and the cowslip gold seemed to get into 
your heart, and even Sarn Mere was nothing but a blue 
mist in a yellow mist of birch-tops And there was 
such a dream on the place that if a wild bee came by, 
let alone a bumble, it startled you like a shout If a 
bee comes in at the window now to my jar of gilly- 
flowers, I can see it all in clear colours, with Plash 
lying under the sunset, beyond the woods, looking like a 
jagged piece of bottle glass Plash Mere was bigger 
than Sarn, and there wasn’t a tree by it, so where there 
were no hills beyond it you could see the clouds rooted 
in it on the far side, and I used to think they looked 
like the white water-lilies that lay round the margins 
of Sam half the summer through There was nothing 
about Plash that was different from any other lake 01 
pool There was no troubling of the waters, as at 
Sarn, nor any village sounding its bells beneath the 
furthest deeps. It was true, what folks said of Sam, 
that there was summat to be felt there. 

It was at Plash that the Beguildys lived, and it was 
at their dwelling, that was part stone house and part 
cave, that I got my book learning It may seem a 
strange thing to you that a woman of my humble sta 



4 


PRECIOUS BANE 


tion should be able to write and spell, and put all these 
things into a book. And indeed when I was a young 
wench there were not many great ladies, even, that 
could do much more scribing than to write a love- 
letter, and some could but just write such things as 
“This be quince and apple” on their jellies, and others 
had ado to put their names in the marriage register. 
Many have come to me, time and again, to write their 
love-letters for them, and a bitter old task it is, to 
write other women's love-letters out of your own 
burning heart. 

If it hadna been for Mister Beguildy I never could 
have written down all these things He learned me 
to read and write, and reckon up figures And though 
he was a preached-agamst man, and said he could do 
a deal that I don’t believe he ever could do, and though 
he dabbled in things that are not good for us to inter- 
fere with, yet I shall never forget to thank God for 
him It seems to me now a very uncommon working 
of His power, to put it into Beguildy’s hearc to learn 
me. For a wizard could not rightly be called a servant 
of His, but one of Lucifer’s men. Not that Beguildy 
was wicked, but only empty of good, as if all the 
righteousness was burnt out by the flame of his fiery 
mind, which must know and intermeddle with mysteries. 
As for love, he did not know the word. He could read 
the stars, and tell the future, and he claimed to have 
laid spirits Once I asked him where the future was, 
that he could see it so plain And he said, “It lies with 
the past, child, at the back of Time ” You couldn’t 
ever get the better of Mister Beguildy But when I 
told Kester what he said, Kester would not have it 



URN 


ERE 


5 


so. He said the past and the future were t wo shuttles 
in the hands of the Lord, weaving Eternity. Kester 
was a weaver himself, which may have made him 
think of it thus. But I think we cannot know what 
the past and the future are We are so small and help- 
less on the earth that is like a green rush cradle where 
mankind lies, looking up at the stars, but not knowing 
what they be. 

As soon as I could write, I made a little book with a 
calico cover, and every Sunday I wrote in it any merry 
time or good fortune we had had m the week, and so 
kept them And if times had been troublous and bittei 
for me, I wrote that down too, and was eased So 
when our parson, knowing of the lies that were told 
of me, bade me write all I could remember in a book, 
and set down the whole truth and nothing else, I was 
able to freshen my memory with the things I had put 
down Sunday by Sunday 

Well, it is all gone over now, the trouble and the 
struggling It be quiet weather now, like a still eve- 
ning with the snow all down, and a green sky, and 
lambs calling. I sit here by the fire with my Bible to 
hand, a very old woman and a tired woman, with a 
task to do before she says good night to this world. 
When I look out of my window and see the plain and 
the big sky with clouds standing up on the mountains, 
I call to mind the thick, blotting woods of Sarn, and 
the crying of the mere when the ice was on it, and the 
way the water would come into the cupboard under 
the stairs when it rose at the time of the snow melting. 
There was but little sky to see there, saving that which 
was reflected in the mere; but the sky that is in thfc 



6 


PRECIOUS A N E 


ere is not the proper heavens. You see it in a glass 
darkly, and the long shadows of rushes go thin and 
sharp across the sliding stars, and even the sun and 
moon might be put out down there, for. times, the 
moon would get lost in lily leaves, and, times, a hero 
ight stand before the sun. 



C APT 


two: Telli g the Bees 


TVT Y brother Gideon was born in the year when th$ 
lvA war with the French began. That was why 
Father would have him called Gideon, it being a war- 
like name. Jancis used to say it was a very good name 
for him, because it was one you couldn’t shorten. You 
can make most names into little love-names, like you 
can cut down a cloak or a gown for children’s wearing. 
But Gideon you could do nought with. And the name 
was like the man I was more set on my brother than 
most are, but I couldna help seeing that about him. 
If nobody calls you out of your name, your name’s like 
to be soon out of mind. And most people never even 
called him by his Christian name at all. They called 
him Sam. In Father’s life it was old Sam and young 
Sarn But after Father died, Gideon seemed to take 
the place to himself. I remember how he went out 
that summer night, and seemed to eat and drink the 
place, devouring it with his eyes. Yet it was not for 
iove of it, but for what he could get out of it He was 
very like Father then, and more like every year, both 
to look at and in his mind. Saving that he was less 
tempersome and more set in his ways, he was Father’s 
very marrow. Father’s temper got up despert quick, 
and when it was up he was a ravening lion. Maybe 
that was what gave Mother that married-all-o’er look. 
But Gideon I only saw angered, to call angered, three 

7 



PRECIOUS BANE 


times. Mostly a look was enough He'd give you 
look like murder, and you'd let him take the way he 
wanted. I've seen a dog cringing and whimpering 
because he'd given it one of those looks Sarns mostly 
have grey eyes — cold grey like the mere in winter — . 
and the Sarn men are mainly dark and sullen “Sullen 
as a Sarn," they say about these parts And they say 
there's been something queer m the family ever since 
Timothy Sarn was struck by forkit lightning in the 
times of the religious wars. There were Sarns about 
here then, and always have been, ever since there was 
anybody. Well, Timothy went against his folk and 
the counsels of a man of God, and took up with the 
wrong side, whichever that was, but it's no matter 
now. So he was struck by lightning and lay for dead. 
Being after awhile recovered, he was counselled by 
the man of God to espouse the safe side and avoid 
the lightning But Sarns were ever obstinate men He 
kept his side, and as he was coming home under the 
oak wood he was struck again. And seemingly the 
lightning got into his blood He could tell when 
tempest brewed, long afore it came, and it is said that 
when a storm broke, the wildfire played about him so 
none could come near him. Sams have the lightning 
in their blood since his day I wonder sometimes 
whether it be a true tale, or whether it's too old to be 
true It used to seem to me sometimes as if Sarn was 
too old to be true. The woods and the farm and the 
church at the other end of the mere were all so old, 
as if they were in somebody's dream There was f rit- 
tenmg about the place, too, and what with folk being 
afraid to come there after dusk, and the quiet noise of 



TELLING THE BEES 


9 


the fish jumping far out in the water, and Gideon’s 
boat knocking on the steps with little knocks like some* 
body tapping at the door, and the causeway that ran 
down into the mere as far as you could see, from just 
outside our garden gate, being lost in the water, it 
was a very lonesome old place Many a time, on 
Sunday evenings, there came over the water a thin 
sound of bells. We thought they were the bells of 
the village down under, but I believe now they were 
nought but echo bells from our own church. They 
say that in some places a sound will knock against a 
wall of trees and come back like a ball. 

It was on one of those Sunday evenings, when the 
thm chimes were sounding along with our own four 
bells, that we played truant from church for the second 
time. It being such a beautiful evening, and Fathei 
and Mother being busy with the bees swarming, we 
made it up between us to take dog’s leave, and to wait 
by the lych-gate for Jancis and get her to come with 
us For old Begmldy never werrited much about her 
church-going, not being the best of friends with the 
parson himself He sent her off when the dial made 
it five o’clock every fourth Sunday — for we had ser. 
vice only once a month, the parson having a church 
at Bramton, where he lived, and another as well, which 
made it the more wicked of us to play truant — but 
whether she got there early or late, or got there at all, 
he’d never ask, let alone catechize her about the ser- 
mon Our Father would catechize us last thing in the 
evening when our night-rails were on Father would 
sit down in the settle with the birch-rod to his hand, and 
the settle, that had looked such a great piece of fur** 



10 


PRECIOUS BAN 


ttiture all the week, suddenly looked little, like a settle 
made for a mommet Whatever Father sat m, he 
made it look little. We stood barefoot m front of him 
on the cold quarries, in our unbleached homespun 
gowns that mother had spun and the journeyman 
weaver had woven up in the attic at the loom among 
the apples. Then he’d question us, and when we 
answered wrong he made a mark on the settle, and 
every mark was a stroke with the birch at the end of 
the catechizing Though Father couldn’t read, he 
never forgot anything It seemed as if he turned 
things over in his head all the while he was working. 
I think he was a very clever man with not enow of 
things to employ his mind If he’d had one of the 
new-fangled weaving machines I hear tell of to look 
after, it would have kept him content, but there was 
no talk of such things then. We were all the machines 
he had, and we wished very heartily every fourth 
Sunday, and Christmas and Easter, that we were the 
children of Beguildy, though he was thought so ill of 
by our parson, and often preached against, even by 
name. 

I mind once, when Father leathered us very bad, 
after the long preaching on Easter Sunday, Gideon 
being seven and me five, how Gideon stood up in the 
middle of the kitchen and said, “I do will and wish 
to be Maister Beguildy’s son, and the devil shall have 

y soul. Amen.” 

Father got his temper up that night, no danger ! He 
shouted at Mother terrible, saying she’d done very 
poorly with her children, for the girl had the devil’s 
mark on her, and now it seemed as if the boy came 



TELLING THE BEES II 

from the same smithy. This I know, because Mother 
told it to me. All I mind is that she went to look very 
small, and being only little to begin with, she seemed 
like one of the fairy folk And she said — “Could I 
help it if the hare crossed my path? Could I help it?” 
It seemed so strange to hear her saying that over and 
over. I can see the room now if I shut my eyes, and 
most especially if there’s a bunch of cowslips by me. 
For Easter fell late, or in a spell of warm weather that 
year, and the cowslips were very forrard m sheltered 
places, so we’d pulled some. The room was all dim 
like a cave, and the red fire burning still and watchful 
seemed like the eye of the Lord. There was a little 
red eye in every bit of ware on the dresser too, where 
it caught the gleam. Often and often in after years I 
looked at those red lights, which were echoes of the 
fire, just as the ghostly bells were reflections of the 
chime, and I’ve thought they were like a deal of the 
outer show of this world. Rows and rows of red, 
gledy fires, but all shadows of fires. Many a chime of 
merry bells ringing, and yet only the shadows of bells; 
only a sigh of sound coming back from a wall of 
leaves or from the glassy water Father’s eyes caught 
the gleam too, and Gideon’s ; but Mother’s didna, for 
she was standing with her back to the fire by the table 
where the cowslips were, gathering the mugs and plates 
together from supper. And if it seem strange that so 
young a child should remember the past so clearly, you 
must call to mind that Time engraves his pictures on 
our memory like a boy cutting letters with his knife, 
and the fewer the letters the deeper he cuts. So few 
things ever happened to us at Sarn that we could never 



PRECIOUS BANE 


1 2 

forget them Mother's voice clings to my heart like 
trails of bedstraw that catch you in the lanes She'd 
got a very plaintive voice, and soft Everything she 
said seemed to mean a deal more than the words, and 
times it was like a person fumbling in the dark, or 
going a long way down black passages with a hand 
held out on this side, and a hand held out on that side, 
and no light That was how she said, “Could I help 
it if the hare crossed my path — could I help it?" 

Everything she said, though it might not have any- 
thing merry in it, she smiled a bit, in the way you 
smile to take the edge off somebody's anger, or if you 
hurt yourself and won't show it A very grievous 
smile it was, and always there. So when Father gave 
Gideon another hiding for wishing he was Beguildy's 
boy, Mother stood by the table saying, “Oh, dunna, 
Sarn! Hold thy hand, Sam*" and smiling all the 
while, seeming to catch at Father's hands with her 
soft voice. Poor Mother! Oh, my poor Mother! 
Shall we meet you in the other world, dear soul, and 
atone to you for our heedlessness? 

I'd never forgotten that Easter, but Gideon had, 
seemingly, for when I remembered him of it, saying 
we surely durstn't take dog's leave, he said, “It's 
nought. We'll make Sexton's Tivvy listen to the ser- 
mon for us, so as we can answer well. And I dunna 
care much if I am leathered, so long as I can find some 
good conkers and beat Jancis, for last time she beat 
me." 

Conkers, maybe you know, are snail shells, and chil- 
dren put the empty ones on strings, and play like you 



T LLING TH 


EES 


13 


play with chestnut cobs Our woods were a grand 
place for snails, and Gideon had conker matches with 
lads from as far away as five miles the other side of 
Plash He was famous all about, because he played 
so fiercely, and not like a game at all. 

All the bells were sounding when we started that 
Sunday in June — the four metal bells in the church 
and the four ghost bells from nowhere Mother was 
helping Father with the bees, getting a new skep ready, 
down where the big chestnut tree was, to put the play 
of bees m They’d swarmed in a dead gooseberry 
bush, and Mother said, with her peculiar smile, “It be 
a sign of death ” 

But Gideon shouted out — 

“ A play of bees in May is worth a noble that same day . 

A play in June's pretty soon 33 

And he said — 

“So long as we’ve got the bees, Mother, we’re the 
better of it, die who may.” 

Eh, dear! I’m afraid Gideon had a very having 
spirit, even then. But Father thought he was a sen- 
sible lad, and he laughed and said — 

“Well, we’ve got such a mort of bees now I’m in 
behopes it wunna be me as has the telling of ’em if 
anybody does die.” 

“Where be your sprigs of rosemary and your Prayer 
Books and your clean handkerchers says Mother 
Gideon had been in behopes to leave them behind, 
but now he ran to fetch them, and Mother began set- 
ting my kerchief to rights over my shoulders. She 
put in her big brooch with the black stone, that she 



14 


PRECIOUS ANE 


had when George the Second died, and while she was 
putting it in she kept saying to herself — “Not as it 
matters what the poor child wears Deary, deary me ! 
But could I help it if the hare crossed my path? Could 
I help it?” 

Whenever she said that, her voice went very mourn- 
ful and I thought again of somebody in a dark pas- 
sage, groping. 

“Now then, Mother! Hold the skep whilst I keep 
the bough up,” said Father; “they’ve knit so low 
down ” 

I’d lief have stayed, for I dearly loved to see the 
great tossy-ball of bees’ bodies, as rich as a brown 
Christmas cake, and to hear the heavy sound of them. 

We went through the wicket and along the top path, 
because it was the nighest way to the church, and we 
wanted to catch Tivvy afore she went in The coots 
were out on the mere, and the water was the colour 
of light, with spears in it. “Now,” said Gideon, “we’ll 
run for our lives !” 

“What’s after us?” 

“The people out of the water.” 

So we ran for our lives, and got to the church just 
as the two last bells began their snabbing “ Ting tong! 
Ting tong 1 ” that always minded me of the birch-rod 

We sat on the flat grave where we mostly sat to play 
Conquer, and the church being on a little hill we could 
watch the tuthree folks coming along the fields. There 
was Tivvy with her father, coming from the East 
Coppy, and Jancis in the flat water-meadows where the 
big thorn hedges were all in blow Jancis was a little 
thing, not tall like me, but you always saw her before 



T LUNG THE BEES 


15 


you saw other people, for it seemed that the light 
gathered round her. She'd got golden hair, and all 
the shadows on her face seemed to be stained with the 
pale colour of it. I was used to think she was like a 
white water-lily full of yellow pollen or honey. She'd 
got a very white skm, creamy white, without any 
colour unless she was excited or shy, and her face was 
dimpled and soft, and just the right plumpness. She'd 
got a red, cool, smiling mouth, and when she smiled the 
dimples ran each into other. Times I could almost 
have strangled her for that smile. 

She came up to us, very demure, in her flowered 
bodice and blue skirt and a bunch of blossom in her 
kerchief. 

Although she was only two years older than I was, 
being of an age with Gideon, she seemed a deal older, 
for she'd begun to smile at the lads already, and folks 
said, “Beguildy's Jancis will soon be courting." But 
I know old Beguildy never meant her to get married. 
He meant to keep her as a bait to draw the young fel- 
lows in, for mostly the people that came to him were 
either young maids with no money or old men who 
wanted somebody cursed cheap. So at this time, whe 
he saw what a white, blossomy piece Jancis was grow- 
ing, he encouraged her to dizen herself and sit in the 
window of the Cave House in case anybody went by 
up the lane. It was only once in a month of Sundays 
that anybody did, for Plash was nearly as lonesome 
as Sarn. He made a lanthom of coloured glass, too, 
the colour of red roses, and while Jancis sat in the 
stone frame of the window he hung it up above hef 
with a great candle m it from foreign parts, not a rush- 



l6 PRECIOUS BANE 

light such as we used. He had it in mind that if some 
great gentleman came by to a fair or a cockfight 
beyond the mountains he might fall in love with her, 
and then Beguildy planned to bring him in and give 
him strong ale and talk about charms and spells, and 
offer at long last to work the charm of raising Venus. 
It was all written m one of his books* how you went 
into a dark room and gave the wise man five pound, 
and he said a charm, and after awhile there was a 
pink light and a scent of roses, and Venus rose naked 
in the middle of the room. Only it wouldna have been 
Venus, but Jancis. The great gentleman, howsoever, 
was a long while coming, and the only man that saw 
her in the window was Gideon one winter evening 
when he was coming back that way from market, 
because the other road was flooded. He was fair 
comic-struck about her, and talked of her till I was 
aweary, he being nineteen at the time, which is a 
foolish age in lads Before that, he never took any 
account of her, but just to tell her this and that as he 
did with me But afterwards he was nought but a 
gauby about her. I could never have believed that 
such a determined lad, so set in his ways and so clever, 
could have been thus soft about a girl. But on this 
evening he was only seventeen, and he just said, “Take 
dog’s leave oot, Jancis, and come with us after 
conkers.” 

“Q” said Jancis, “I wanted to play e Green Gravel, 
Green Gravel ’ ” 

She’s got a way of saying “O” afore everything, and 
it made her mouth look like a rose. But whether she 



TELLING T 


EES 


17 


did it for that, or whether she did it because she was 
slow-witted and timid, I never could tell. 

“There’s nought to win in Green Gravel said 
Gideon, “we’ll play Conquer ” 

“O I wanted Green Gravel f You’ll beat me if we 
play Conquer/’ 

“Ah That’s why we’ll play ” 

Tivvy came through the lych-gate then, and we told 
her what she’d got to do. She was a poor, foolish 
creature, and she could hardly mind her own name, 
times, for all its outlandishness, let alone a sermon. 
But Gideon said, so long as she got an inkling of it he 
could make up the rest. And he said if she didna 
remember enough of it he’d twist her arm proper. So 
she began to cry. 

Then we saw Sexton coming across the ploughed 
field, very solemn, with his long staff, black and white 
in bands, and we could hear Parson’s piebald pony 
clop-clopping up the lane, so we made off, and left 
Tivvy with her round chm trembling, and her mouth all 
crooked with crying, because she knew she’d never 
remember a word of the sermon. Tivvy at a sermon 
always used to make me think of our dog being 
washed He’d lie down and let the water souse over 
him, and she did the same with a sermon. So I knew 
trouble was brewing 

It was a beautiful evening, with swallows high in 
the air, and a powerful smell of may-blossom. When 
the bells stopped, ours and the others, we went and 
looked down into the water, to see if we could get a 
sight of the village there, as we did most Sundays, 



i8 


PRECIOUS BANE 


But there was only our own church upside down, and 
two or three stones and crosses the same, and Parson’s 
pony grazing on its head. 

Times, on summer evenings, when the sun was 
low, the shadow of the spire came right across the 
water to our dwelling, and I was used to think it was 
like the finger of the Lord pointing at us We went 
down into the marshy places and found plenty of 
conkers, and Gideon beat Jancis every time, which was 
a good thing, for at the end he said he’d play Green 
Gravel, and they were both pleased. Only we were 
terrible late, and nearly missed Tivvy. 

“Now, tell*” says Gideon. So she began to cry, and 
said she knew nought about it Then he twisted her 
arm, and she screamed out, “Burning and fuel of fire!” 

She must have said that because it was one of the 
texts the Sexton was very fond of saying over, keep- 
ing time with tapping his staff the while, 

“What else?” 

“Nought” 

“I’ll twist your arm till it comes off if you dunna 
think of any more ” 

Tivvy looked artful, like Pussy in the dairy, and 
aid — 

“Parson told about Adam and Eve and Noah and 
Shemaman j aphet and Jesus in the manger and thirty 
pieces of silver ” 

Gideon’s face went dark. 

“There’s no sense in it,” he said 

“But she’s told you, anyway. You must let her g 



TELLING THE EES 


x 9 


So we went home, with the shadow of the spire 
stretching all across the water. 

Father said — 

“What was the text?” 

“Burning and fuel of fire.” 

“What was the sarmon about?” 

Poor Gideon made out a tale of all the things Tivv^ 
had said You never heard such a tale! Father sat 
quite quiet, and Mother was smiling very painful, 
standing by the fire, cooking a rasher 
Suddenly Father shouted out — 

“Liar ! Liar ! Parson called but now, to say was 
there sickness, there being nobody at church. You've 
not only taken dog's leave and lied, but you've made 
game of me” 

His face went from red to purple, and all veined, 
like raw meat It was awful to see. Then he reached 
for the horsewhip and said — 

“I'll give you the best hiding ever you had, my boy P 
He came across the kitchen towards Gideon 
But suddenly Gideon ran at him and bunted into 
him, and taking him by surprise he knocked him clea 
over. 

Now whether it was that Father had eaten a very 
hearty supper, after a big day's work with the bees r 
or whether it was him being m such a rage, and then 
the surprise of the fall, we never knew. However it 
was, he was taken with a fit He never stirred, but 
lay on his back on the red quarries, breathing so loud 
and strong that it filled the house, like somebody 
snoring m the night Mother undid his Sunday neck 



20 


PRECIOUS BANE 


cloth, and lifted him up, and put cold water on his 
face, but it was no manner of use. 

The awful snoring went on, and seemed to eat up 
all other sounds. They went out like rushlights m the 
wind. There was no more ticking from the clock, nor 
purring from the cat, nor sizzling from the rasher, nor 
buzzing from the bee in the window. It seemed to eat 
up the light, too, and the smell of the white bush-roses 
outside, and the feeling in my body, and the thoughts 
I had afore We’d all come to be just a part of a dark 
snoring 

“Sarn, Sarn cried Mother. “Oh, Sarn, poor soul, 
come to thyself !” 

She tried to put some Hollands between his lips, but 
they were set Then the snore changed to a rattle, 
very awful to hear, and in a little while it stopped, and 
there was a dreadful silence, as if all the earth had 
gone dumb. All the while, Gideon stood like stone, 
remembering the horsewhip Father meant to beat him 
with, so he said after. And though he’d never seen 
anyone die afore, when Father went quiet, and the 
place dumb, he said m an everyday voice, only with a bit 
of a tremble — 

“He’s dead, Mother I’ll go and tell the bees, or we 

et lose ’em.” 

We cried a long while, Mother and me, and when; 
we couldna cry any more, the little sounds came creep* 
ing back — the clock ticking, bits of wood falling out 
of the fire, and the cat breathing in its sleep 

When Gideon came in again, the three of us man- 
aged to get Father on to a mattress, and lap him in a 



TELLING THE BEES 


21 


clean sheet He looked a fine, good-featured man, 
now that the purple colour was gone from his face 
Gideon locked up, and went round to look the beasts 
and see all well 

“Best go to bed now, Mother,” he said “All's safe, 
and the beasts m their housen I told every skep of 
bees, and I can see they’re content, and willing for me 
to be maister.” 



at b. : Pr e t kes the Bidding Letters 

TN those days there was little time for the mourners 
-*• to think of their sorrow till after the funeral. 
There was a deal to do There was the mourning to 
make, and before that, if a family hadn’t had the 
weaver lately, there was the cloth to weave and dye 
We hadn’t had the weaver for a good while, so we 
were very short of stuff 

Mother told Gideon he must go and fetch the old 
weaver, who lived at Lulhngford, by the mountains, 
and went out weaving by the day or the week. Gideon 
saddled Bendigo, Father’s horse, and picked up the 
riding whip with a queer kind of smile. As soon as 
he was gone, Mother and I began to bake. For it 
wasn’t only the weaver that must be fed, but the 
women we were going to bid to the funeral sewing- 
bee. They would come for love, as was the custom, 
but we must feed them. 

It seemed lonesome that night without Gideon He 
had to bait and sleep in Lullingford, but he came back 
in good time next day, and I heard the sound of the 
hoofs on the yard cobbles through my spinning. We 
were hard at it, getting yarn ready for the old man. 
He came riding after Gideon on a great white horse, 
very bony, which put me in mind of the rider on the 


22 



PRUE TAKES THE BIDDINGS 23 

white horse in the Bible. He was the oldest man you 
could see in a month of Sundays. He hopped about 
like a magpie, prying here and there over the loom, 
looking at his shuttle for all the world like a pie that’s 
pleased with some bright thing it’s fotmd. I had to 
take his meals up to the attic, for he wouldna waste 
time leaving off for them. It was a good thing the 
apples were all done, so he could hop about the loft 
without let or hindrance. “Now you must take the 
bidding letters for the sewing, Prue,” Mother told me. 

“Can I take one to Jancis, Mother?” 

“No. We munna spend money paying for a bidding 
letter to Jancis. But she can come, and welcome ” 

“I’ll go and tell her. She sews very nice 99 

“But not so well as you, my dear. Whatsoever’s 
wrong, thee sews a beautiful straight seam, Prue.” 

I ran off, mighty pleased with praise, which came 
seldom my way I met Gideon by the lake. 

“Taking the biddings?” he said. 

“Ah ” 

“Jancis coming?” 

“Ah ” 

“Well, when you be there, ask Beguildy to lend us 
the white oxen for the funeral, oot?” 

“To lug Father to the church?” 

“Ah. And when we’ve buried Father, you and me 
must talk a bit. There’s a deal to think of for the 
future All these bidding letters, now, you met as 
well have written ’em and saved a crown ” 

I wondered what he meant, seeing he knew I 
couldna write a word, but I knew he’d say in ow^ 



04 


PRECIOUS BANE 


time, and not afore, that being his way. Nobody 
would have thought he was but seventeen; he seemed 
five-and-twenty by the way he spoke, so choppy and 
quick, but ever so quiet 

When I got to Plash, Jancis was sitting in the 
garden, spinning. She said we could borrow the 
beasts, that were hers by right, being a present from 
her Granny, though she never had the strength to con- 
trol them in a waggon nor to drive plough with 'em 
like I had in the years after. But she got a bit of pin 
money by hiring them out for wakes, when Beguildy 
didna pocket it. They dressed up beautiful with 
flowers and ribbons after they'd been scrubbed 

I went in to speak to Beguildy. 

“Father's dead, Mister Beguildy," I said. 

“So, so ! What's that to me, dear soul?" 

He was a very strange man, always, was Beguildy. 

“Tell me what I knew not, child," he said, 

“Did you know, then?" 

“Ah, I knew thy feyther was gone. Didna he go 
by me on a blast of air last Sunday evening, crying 
out, thin and spiteful, 'You owe me a crown, 
Beguildy!' Tell me summat fresh, girl — new, strange 
things. Now if you could say that the leaves be all 
fallen this day of June, and my damsons ripe for man 
ket ; or that the mere hath dried ; or that man lusteth 
o more to hurt his love; or that Jancis looketh no 
more at her own face in Plash Pool, there would be 
telling, yes ! But for your dad, it is nought. I cared 
ot for the man." 

And taking up his little hammer, he beat on a ro 



PRUE TAKES THE BIDDINGS 25 


of flints that he had, till the room was all in a charm. 
Every flint had its own voice, and he knew them as a 
shepherd the sheep, and it was his custom when the 
talk was not to his mind to beat out a chime upon 
them. 

“I came to see if we could borrow the beasts for our 
waggon. Jancis said yes ” 

“You mun pay.” 

“How much, mister 

“The same as for wakes, a penny a head So you 
be taking the biddings? Now who did your mam pay 
to write ’em?” 

“Parson wrote ’em for us, and Mother put a crown 
in the poor-box.” 

“Dear soul! The bitter waste! I’d have wrote ’em 
very clear and fine for half the money I can write 
the tall script and the dwarf, round or square, red or 
black Parson can only do the sarmon script, and a 
very poor script it be ” 

“I wish I could write, Mister Beguildv ” 

“Oh, you f ” 

He laughed in a very peculiar way he had, soft and 
light, at the top of his head 

“It’s not for children,” he said. 

But I thought about it a deal I thought it would 
be a fine thing to sit by the fire, in the settle corner, and 
write bidding letters and love-letters and market bills, 
or even a verse for a tombstone, and to do the round 
or the square, tall or little, red or black, and sermon 
script too if I’d a mind I thought when anybody like 
Jancis angered me by being so pretty, I’d do her letters 



very crabbed, and with no red at all. But I knew that 
was wicked of me, for poor Jancis couldna help being 
pretty. 

Then Beguildy went off to cure an old man’s corns, 
and Jancis and I played lovers, but Jancis said I did it 
very bad, and she thought Gideon would do it a deal 
better. 



chapter four: Torches and Rosemary 


TT was a still, dewy summer night when we buried 
Father. In our time there was still a custom round 
about Sarn to bury people at night In our family it 
had been done for hundreds of years. I was busy all 
day decking the waggon with yew and the white 
flowering laurel, that has such a heavy, sweet smell. I 
pulled all the white roses and a tuthree pinks that were 
m blow, and made up with daisies out of the hay grass. 
While I pulled them, I thought how angered Father 
would have been to see me there, trampling it, and I 
could scarcely help looking round now and again to 
see if he was coming 

After we’d milked, Gideon went for the beasts, and 
I put black streamers round their necks, and tied yew 
boughs to their horns It had to be done carefully, for 
they were the Longhorn breed, and if you angered 
them, they'd hike you to death in a minute. 

The miller was one bearer, and Mister Callard, of 
Callard’s Dingle, who farmed all the land between 
Sarn and Plash, was another. Then there were our 
two uncles from beyond the mountains. 

Gideon, being chief mourner, had a tall hat with 
black streamers and black gloves and a twisted black 
stick with streamers on it. They took a long while 
getting the coffin out, for the doors were very narrow 
and it was a big, heavy coffin It had always been the 



28 


PRECIOUS BANE 


same at all the Sarn funerals, yet nobody ever seemed 
to think of making the doors bigger 

Sexton went first with his hat off and a great torch 
in his hand Then came the cart, with Miller’s lad and 
another to lead the beasts The waggon was mounded 
up with leaves and branches, and they all said it was 
a credit to me But I could only mind how poor 
Father was used to tell me to take away all those nasty 
weeds out of the house And now we were taking 
him away, jolting over the stones, from the place 
where he was maister. I was all of a puzzle with it 
It did seem so unkind, and disrespectful as well, leav- 
ing the poor soul all by his lonesome at the other end 
of the mere I was glad it was sweet June weather, 
and not dark. 

We were bound to go the long way round, the other 
being only a foot road. When we were come out of 
the fold-yard, past the mixen, and were m the road, 
we took our places — Gideon behind the coffin by him- 
self, then Mother and me in our black poke bonnets 
and shawls, with Prayer Books and branches of rose- 
mary in our hands Uncles and Miller and Mister 
Callard came next, all with torches and boughs of 
rosemary 

It was a good road, and smoother than most — the 
road to Lullmgford. Parson used to say it was made 
by folk who lived in the days when the Redeemer 
lived Romans, the name was They could make 
roads right well, whatever their name was It went 
along above the water, close by the lake; and as we 
walked solemnly onwards, I looked into the water and 
aw us there. It was a dim picture, for the only light 



TORCHES AND ROSE ARY 


29 


there was came from the waning, clouded moon, and 
from the torches. But you could see, in the dark 
water, something stirring, and gleams and flashes, and 
when the moon came clear we had our shapes, like 
the shadows of fish gliding in the deep. There was a 
great heap of black, that was the waggon, and the oxen 
were like clouds moving far down, and the torches 
were flung into the water as if we wanted to dout 
them. 

All the time, as we went, we could hear the bells 
ringing the corpse home. They sounded very strange 
over the water in the waste of night, and the echoes 
sounded yet stranger Once a white owl came by, 
like a blown feather for lightness and softness. 
Mother said it was Father’s spirit looking for its body. 
There was no sound but the bells and the creaking of 
the wheels, till Parson’s pony, grazing in the glebe, saw 
the dim shapes of the oxen a long way off, and 
whinnied, not knowing, I suppose, but what they were 
ponies too, and being glad to think, in the lonesome- 
ness of the night, of others like herself near by 
At last the creaking stopped at the lych-gate They 
took out the coffin, resting it on trestles, and in the 
midst of the heavy breathing of the bearers came the 
promising words — 

“I am the resurrection and the life ” 

They were like quiet rain after drought. Only I 
began to wonder, how should we come again in the 
resurrection? Should we’ come clear, or dim, like in 
the water? Would Father come in a fit of anger, as 
he’d died, or as a little boy running to Grandma with 
bunch of primmyroses ? Would Mother smile thl 



30 


PRECIOUS BANE 


same smile, or would she have found a light in the dark 
passage? Should I still be fast in a body I'd no mind 
for, or would they give us leave to weave ourselves 
bodies to our own liking out of the spinnings of our 
souls ? 

The coffin was moved to another trestle, by the 
graveside, and a white cloth put over it Our best 
tablecloth, it was On the cloth stood the big pewter 
tankard full of elderberry wine. It was the only thing 
Mother could provide, and it was by good fortune that 
she had plenty of it, enough for the funeral feast and 
all, since there had been such a power of elderberries 
the year afore. It looked strange in the doubtful 
moonlight, standing there on the coffin, when we were 
used to see it on the table, with the colour of the 
Christmas Brand reflected m it 

Parson came forrard and took it up, saying — 

“I drink to the peace of him that’s gone/' 

Then everybody came in turn, and drank good 
health to Father’s spirit 

At the coffin foot was our little pewter measure full 
of wine, and a crust of bread with it, but nobody 
touched them. 

Then Sexton stepped forrard and said — 

“Be there a Sin Eater?” 

And Mother cried out — 

“Alas no! Woe’s me! There is no Sin Eater for 
poor Sarn. Gideon gainsayed it.” 

Now it was still the custom at that time, in our part 
of the country, to give a fee to some poor man after a 
death, and then he would take bread and wine handed 
to him across the coffin, a d eat and drink, saying — 



PORCHES AND OSE ARY 31 

1 give easement and rest now to thee, dear man , 
that ye walk not over the fields nor down the by- 
ways And for thy peace I pawn my own soul 

And with a calm and grievous look he would go to 
his own place. Mostly, my Grandad used to say, Sin 
Eaters were such as had been Wise Men of layers o£ 
spirits, and had fallen on evil days. Or they were 
poor folk that had come, through some dark deed, out 
of the kindly life of men, and with whom none would 
trade, whose only food might oftentimes be the bread 
and wine that had crossed the coffin In our time 
there were none left around Sarn. They had nearly 
died out, and they had to be sent for to the mountains. 
It was a long way to send, and they asked a big price, 
instead of doing it for nothing as in the old days. So 
Gideon said — 

“We’ll save the money What good would the man 
do?” 

But Mother cried and moaned all night after. And 
when the Sexton said “Be there a Sm Eater?” she 
cried again very pitifully, because Father had died in 
his wrath, with all his sins upon him, and besides, he 
had died in his boots, which is a very unket thing and 
bodes no good So she thought he had great need of 
a Sm Eater, and she would not be comforted 

Then a strange, heart-shaking thing came to pass. 

Gideon stepped up to the coffin and said — 

‘There is a Sin Eater ” 

“Who then? I see none,” said Sexton. 

“I ool be the Sin Eater ” 

He took up the little pewter measure full of dark* 
ess, and he looked at Mother. 



32 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“Oot turn over the farm and all to me if I be the Si 
Eater, Mother?” he said 

“No, no ? Sm Eaters be accurst!” 

“What harm, to drink a sup of your own wine and 
chumble a crust of your own bread ? But if you dunna 
care, let he. He can go with the sin on him ” 

“No, no! Leave un go free, Gideon! Let un rest, 
poor soul! You be in life and young, but he'm cold 
and helpless, in the power of Satan He went with 
all his sms upon him, in his boots, poor soul! If 
there's none else to help, let his own lad take pity ” 
“And you'll give me the farm. Mother 
“Yes, yes, my dear! What be the farm to me? You 
can take all, and welcome.” 

Then Gideon drank the wine all of a gulp, and 
swallowed the crust. There was no sound in all the 
place but the sound of his teeth biting it up 

Then he put his hand on the coffin, standing up tall 
in the high black hat, with a gleaming pale face, and 
he said — 

“I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man 
Come not down the lanes nor in our meadows And 
for thy peace I pawn my own soul Amen.” 

There was a sigh from everybody then, like the 
wind in dry bents. Even the oxen by the gate, it 
seemed to me, sighed as they chewed the cud. 

But when Gideon said, “Come not down the lanes 
nor in our meadows,” I thought he said it like some- 
body warning off a trespasser 

Now it was time to throw the rosemary into the 
grave Then they lowered the coffin in, and all threw 
their burning torches down upon it, and douted them 



TORCHES AND ROSEMARY 


33 


It was over at long last, and we went home by the 
shortest way, only Gideon going by the road with the 
waggon. We were a tidy few, for all that had beer 
at the church came back foi the funeral feast There 
was the smith, and the ox-driver from Plash Farm, 
and the shepherd from the Mountain, and the miller’s 
man and a good few women, as well as those I spoke 
of afore 

Mother had asked Tivvy to mind the fire and see to 
the kettles for making spiced ale and posset, for the 
air struck chill along the water at that time of night 

When we raught home there was Missis Beguildy 
as well, and Jancis. They had a nice gledy fire, and 
the horn of ale set upon it all ready She was a kind 
soul, Missis Beguildy, but sorely mishked through 
being the wife of a wizard, a preached-against man. 
She was never invited to w r eddings nor baptisms. But 
at a burying, when the harm’s on the house already, 
what ill can anybody do? Missis Beguildy dearly 
loved an outing She’d have liked to live in Lulling- 
ford and keep a shop, and go to church twice of a 
Sunday, and sing in the choir. She’d no faith at all 
in her goodman’s spells, though she never said so, 
except to me and a tuthree she knew well Once, a 
long while after this, when there’d been trouble at th$ 
Stone House, which you’ll hear of in good time, when 
she’d quarreled with Beguildy, I went in by chance 
and found her with Lady Camperdine’s bottle (in 
which he said he’d got the old lady’s ghost), shaking 
it as if it was an ill-mixed sauce, so that I thought the 
cork would come out, and shouting, “I’ll learn ye ? I’ll 
learn ye* Lady Camperdine indeed? Plash water/ 



34 


PRECIOUS BANE 


That’s what’s in this here bottle. Plash water and 
nought else ” 

It was seldom anybody saw Missis Beguildy She 
was always out with the fowl or the ducks, or digging 
the garden, or fishing She was a good fisherwoman 
If it hadna been for her, they’d have clemmed, for 
Beguildy never reckoned to do anything but wizardry 
She’d baked us a batch of funeral cakes in case we 
hadna enough, and she was so kind and comely, being 
fair, like Jancis, and plump, and the posset she made 
was so good, that everybody forgot she was the 
wizard’s wife, even Parson 

“I’m to take back the cattle, my dear,” she said to 
Mother ; "hay harvest, we use ’em a deal.” 

"Bin you started?” 

"Ah. Bin you?” 

"I start to-morrow,” said Gideon. 

Everybody looked at him, tall in the doorway, with 
a kind of power in him. And it seemed to me that 
everybody drew away a bit, as if from summat untoert 

Parson got up to go. 

"It’s tomorrow now, young Sam,” he said. "See 
you do well in it, and in all the to-morrows ” 

"To-morrow! O to-morrow!” said Jancis. "It be 

word of promise.” 

She yawned, and all in a minute her mouth was a 
rose, and I knew I couldna abide her. 

"One song!” Sexton spoke very solemn. "One holy 
song afore we part ” 

So we stood up about the table, where the twelve 
candles were guttering low, and we sang — 



TORCHES AND ROSEMARY 


3 $ 


With a turf all at your head-, dear man. 

And another at your feet , 

Your good deeds and your bad ones all 
Before the Lord shall meet . 

There being a sight more men than women, the song 
sounded deep, like bees in a lime-tree Jancis and 
Tivvy sang very clear and high, and cold too, as if 
they didna mind at all that the poor corpse lay out 
yonder with only turfs for company. 

Then there was a trampling and a traversing, and 
they all went out, Mother standing by the door the 
while, doling out the funeral cakes These were made 
of good sponge, with plenty of eggs, coffin-shaped and 
lapped up m black-edged paper. 

By this the birds were singing very loud and clear, 
with a ringing, echoing noise Our chimneys lay in 
the mere, which meant that it was sunrise There 
was a cuckoo in the oak wood, and the first corncrake 
spoke up from the hay grass very masterful. 

Gideon said — 

“It be too late for sleep now. To-morrow be come 
Let's go down into the orchard. I want to tell you 
what Tve planned out” 

Little did I think, as I followed him down into the 
orchard, where was neither blossom nor fruit, what 
those plans were to mean for us all. 



chapter five: The First Swath Falls 

W E climbed up into the old pippin tree, where we 
had a favourite place between the boughs 
Looking at Gideon’s face among the bright leaves. I 
thought it was very queer to think of all those sins 
being on him. Ever since Father was a little baby, 
roaring and beating on his e$t of rushes, on through 
the time when he was a lad, taking dog’s leave from 
church, and after, when he went cockfighting and 
courting, all the evil he did, Gideon had got to carry. 
All his rages were Gideon’s rages 

“Now, Prue,” says Gideon, “listen what I be going 
to tell ye. You and me has got to get on.” 

“And Mother?” 

“Oh, well, Mother too But she’s old.” 

“She’d like to get on though, sure ” 

“That be neither here nor there. If we get on, she 
will. You and me ha’ got to work, Prue.” 

“I amna afeerd of work,” I said. 

“Well, there’ll be a plenty. I want to make money 
on the place — a mort of money. Then, when the 
time’s ripe, we’ll sell it. Then we’ll go to Lullingford 
and buy a house, and you shall hold up your head with 
the best, and be a rich lady ” 

“I dunna mind all that about being rich and holding 
up my head ” 

“Well, you must mind. And I’ll be churchwarden 

36 



THE FIRST SWATH FALLS 


37 


and tell the Rector what to do, and say who's to go m 
the stocks, and who's to go in the almshousen, and vote 
for the parliament men And when any wench has a 
baby that's a love-child, you’ll go and scold her.” 

“I'd liefer play with the baby ” 

“Anybody can play with a baby None but a great 
*ady can scold. And we'll buy a grand house 1 
hanna put my eye on one yet, but there be time enow. 
And a garden with a man to see to it, and serving- 
wenches, and the place full of grand furniture and 
silver plate and china ” 

“I dearly like pretty china,” I said “Can we get 
some of them new cups and saucers from Stafford- 
shire, with little people on 'em?” 

“You can get anything you like, and a gold thimble 
and a press full of gowns into the bargain Only you 
mun help me first. It'll take years and years ” 

“But couldna we stop at Sarn, and get just a little 
bit of new furniture and china, and do without so many 
maids and men?” 

“No There's not enow of folks at Sarn, saving at the 
Wake, and that's only once a year. What's once a 
year? And what use being chief if there’s nobody to 
be chief of? ‘Chief among ten thousand.' That's a 
grod sounding text. I'd lief be chief among ten 
thousand ” 

“I wonder if it be the lightning in you,” 1 said, 
“makes you feel like that?” 

I always used to think he looked as if he’d got it in 
him when there was anything out of the common goin 
on. His eyes would be all of a blaze, but cold too. 
And he'd make you feel as if you wanted what be 



38 


PRECIOUS BANE 


wanted, though you didna. Times, when he wanted 
to look for badger-earths in the woods, he made me 
think I did too. And all the while, what I wanted in 
my own self was to go and gather primmyroses. 

“Well, it'll take a deal of lightning in the blood to 
do what I'm set to do/' he said “The place never did 
more than keep us. Mother says. And Father left 
nought — not but just enough to pay the weaver and 
Sexton and buy the wax candles and gloves and that 
for the burying ” 

“Whatever shall we do, if we’d only just enough 
afore,” I wondered, “and Father to work for us? We 
can never put by money, lad.” 

“I shall do what he did and a deal more beside.” 

“You never can.” 

“I can do all as I’ve a mind to do Fve got such a 
power in me that nought but death can bind it. And 
with you to give a hand ” 

He stopped a bit there, and pulled a leaf, and tore 
it 

“Being as how things are, you’ll never marry, Prue ” 

My heart beat soft and sad It seemed such a ter- 
rible thing never to marry. All girls got married 
Jancis would. Tivvy would. Even Miller’s Polly, 
that always had a rash or a hoost or the ringworm or 
summat, would get married. And when girls got 
married, they had a cottage, and a lamp, maybe, to 
light when their man came home, or if it was only 
candles it was all one, for they could put them in the 
window, and he’d think “There’s my missus now, lit 
the candles !” And then one day Mrs Beguildy would 
be making a cot of rushes for ’em, and one day there’d 



THE FIRST SWATH FALLS 


39 


be a babe in it, grand and solemn, and bidding letters 
sent round for the christening, and the neighbours 
coming round the babe's mother like bees round the 
queen Often, when things went wrong, I’d say to my- 
self, “Ne'er mind, Prue Sarn! There'll come a day 
when you’ll be queen in your own skep ” So I said — ■ 

“Not wed, Gideon? Oh, ah! I’ll wed for sure.” 

“I’m afeerd nobody’ll ask you, Prue ” 

“Not ask me? What for not?” 

“Because — oh, well, you’ll soon find out But you 
can have a house and furniture and all just the same, 
if you give a hand in the earning of ’em.” 

“But not an ’usband, nor a babe in a cot of rushes?” 

“No.” 

“For why?” 

“Best ask Mother for why. Maybe she can tell you 
why the hare crossed her path But I’m main sorry 
for ye, Prue, and I be going to make you a rich lady, 
and maybe when we’ve gotten a deal of gold, we’ll 
send away for some doctor’s stuff for a cure But it’ll 
cost a deal, and you must work well and do all I tell 
you You’re a tidy, upstanding girl enough, Prue, 
and but for that one thing the fellows ud come round 
like they will round Jancis.” 

I thought about it a bit, while the water lapped on 
the banks at the foot of the orchard. Then I said I’d 
do all Gideon wanted. 

“You mun swear it, Prue, a solemn oath on the 
Book. Maybe, if you didna, you’d tire and give ovef 
soon. And I’ll swear what I promised, too ” 

He went into the house to fetch the Book I sat still 
and listened to the rooks going over to the rookery at 



(.O PRECIOUS BANE 

the back of the house, beyond the garden and the rick 
yard They were coming back from their breakfast 
in the fields away towards Plash I wanted my break- 
fast, too, for whoever's dead, we poor mortals clem 
And as I listened to the sleepy sound of the cawing, 
and the flapping of their wings when they came over 
low down, I thought it seemed a criss-cross sort of 
world, where you bury your Father at night, and 
straightway begin to think of breakfast and housen 
and gold with the first light of dawn, where you've 
got to go cursed all your life long because a poor silly 
hare looked at your Mother afore you were bom; 
where a son, eating his Mother's batch-cake and drink- 
ing of her brewing, loads his poor soul with all his 
Father's sins 

Gideon came running back with the great Book m 
his hands, very heavy, and fastened with a silver clasp 

“Come down, Prue, and swear," he said “Now 
hold the Book " 

I asked him if he was sure Mother would give us 
leave to do it 

“Give us leave? It's not for her to give us leave 
She canna hinder me. The farm be mine. Didna 
you hear her say so when I took the sin upon me 

“But will you make Mother abide by that ? " 

“Will folk pawn their souls for nought? Is 
another's sin sweet in the mouth that I should eat it 
save at a price? The farm be mine for ever and ever, 
until I choose to sell it. Now swear! Say — 

“/ promise and vow to obey my brother Gideon Sam 
nd to hire myself out to him as a servant, for no 



THE FIRST SWAT 


FALLS 


4 * 


money , until all that he wills be done And I’ll be as 
biddable as a prentice , a wife , and a dog I swear ii 
on the Holy Book Amen ” 

So I said it Then Gideon said — 

“I szvear to keep faith with my sister , Prue Sar * 
and share all with her tvhen we’ve won through, and 
give her money up to fifty pound , when we’ve sold 
Sam, to cure her Amen ” 

After we'd done, I felt as if Sarn Mere was flowing 
right over us, and I shivered as if Fd got an ague 

“What ails you?" says Gideon “Best go and light 
the fire if you be cold, and get the breakfast We can 
talk while we eat Mother’s asleep. There’s a deal ta 
say yet.’’ 

So I went in and lit the fire, and set the table as nice 
as I could, for it seemed a bit of comfort in a dark 
place. I wondered if it would be unfeeling to pull a 
few rosebuds to put in the middle. And seeing that it 
wasna unfeeling to eat and drink, I thought it wouldna 
hurt to pull a rose or two 

When Gideon came in from the milking, we sat 
down, and he told me all that was in his mind. First, 
I was to learn to make cheeses as well as butter Then 
he was going to make some withy panniers for 
Bendigo, and every market day he’d ride to Lulling- 
ford with butter and eggs, cheeses and honeycomb, 
fruit and vegetables, and even flowers 

“Them roses, now,’’ he said, “you could bunch ’em 
up, and they’d bring in a bit.’’ 

Times there’d be dressed poultry and ducks, rabbits 
fish, and mushrooms. 



42 


PRECIOUS ANE 


•'^You’ll see, Prue, we’ll make a deal,” he said. 

“But what a journey ! Thirty mile in the day ” 

“I’ll plough a bit of land to grow com for Bendigo 
As for me, I’m never tired.” 

When we’d saved a bit, we were to buy another cow. 
She’d calve in the spring, and then there’d be two cows 
milking when one was dry. That ud mean more mar- 
ket butter. After that, we were to buy two oxen to 
plough and turn the flail and lug manure, and save 
hiring Beguildy’s beasts. When our sow farrowed, 
we were to keep all the piglets and turn them loose m 
the oakwoods, and Mother was to take her knitting and 
mind them. Then there’d be a deal of bacon for 
market, over and above what we could eat We’d only 
got five sheep, but Gideon said we’d mend that by 
keeping all the lambs, and so have wool to sell and a 
big flock of sheep next year. Mother and me were 
to spin yam all winter, and he’d sell it at the draper’s 
or change it for things we were bound to have at the 
grocer’s, such as salt for curing, yeast and sugar Soap 
we made ourselves out of lye. Rushlights we made too, 
out of fat and large dry rushes. Rye we had, and one 
small field of wheat Father used to take a few sacks 
at a time to be ground at the mill where Tivvy’s uncle 
lived. 

“I shall grow more corn, acres of corn,” he said, 
“and take it to the mill in the ox-wain. Whatsoever 
the French do, com wunna come amiss And though 
it’s cheap now, it wunna be if they tax it, which I 
hear tell is more than likely It’ll be better, a power, 
to have one acre under wheat then than to be coddling 
about with twenty acres under ought else We’ll grow 



THE FIRST SWATH FALLS 


43 


hops as well, and never be short of a drop of good ale, 
for though I mean to work you, Prue, I wunna clem 
you. Good plain food, as much as you can eat, but no 
fallals. The rough honey after we’ve put by the best 
for market, fruit when it’s cheap, bacon and taters and 
bread, and eggs and butter when the roads are too 
bad for market ” 

“I shall put up a prayer for bad roads,” I said 

Gideon looked at me very sharp, but seeing it was 
only my fun, he laughed. 

“A! right, but it’ll take the Devil’s own weather to 
stop me ” 

He’d got a plan that I should learn to do sums and 
keep accounts and write I was glad, for I dearly 
loved the thought of being able to read books, and 
especially the Bible. It always werrited me in church 
when Sexton read out of the Bible, for no matter what 
he read, it all sounded like a bee m a bottle. It didna 
matter when he was reading — “And he took unto him 
a wife and begat Armnadab . . .” for it was nought 
to me if he did But when there were things to be 
read with a sound in ’em like wind in the aspen tree, 
it seemed a pitiful thing that he should mouth it over 
so, being very big-sorted at being able to read at all. t 
wanted to be able to read 

“Or ever the silver cord be loosed ” 

for myself, and savour it. It would be grand to be 
able to write, too, and put down all such things as I 
wanted to keep in mind. So when Gideon said I was 
to learn, I was joyfully willing 

“But if Mister Beguildy learns me, how can I pay?” 



44 PRECIOUS BANE 

I said. “You can dig taters for ’em, and give a hand 
in the hay, and drive plough for ’em now and again 
Beguildy’s so mortal lazy, and so big-sorted with being 
a wise man, there’s not a hand’s turn of work in the 
man Mooning, mooning! A salve for every sore, 
he’s got, saving for idleness. You be strong. You can 
pretty near dig spade for spade with me. Pay that 
way. And if you’ve a mind, you can put on your black 
and go and ask him this evening.” 

He went off to the hay meadow with his scythe, and 
I set about my work with a will, and should have 
sung a bit, but called poor Father to mind. It made me 
gladsome to be getting some education, it being like a 
big window opening. And out of that window who 
knows what you metna see ? 

When I took Gideon’s nooning, going through the 
rookery, I called to mind that we’d never told the rooks 
about a death in the place. It’s an old ancient custom 
to tell them. Folk say if you dunna, a discontent 
comes over them, and they fall into a melancholy and 
forget to come home. So in a little while there are 
your ellums with the nests still like dark fruit on the 
sky, but all silent and deserted. And though rooks do 
a deal of mischief, it’s very unlucky to lose them, and 
the house they leave never has any prosperation after. 
So I remembered Gideon of this, and we went to the 
rookery. 

They were the biggest ellum trees I’ve ever seen, 
both common and wych ellums. Under them it was 
all dimmery with summer leaves. The ground was 
green with celandine, that had just left blowing, and 
enchanter’s nightshade, not quite in blow. The leaves 



THE FIRST SWATH FALLS 


45 


were white with droppings. It was a very still, hot 
day, with only a little breeze rocking the very tops of 
the trees, and a sleepy caw coming down to ns time 
and again I used to like to come to the rookery on 
days like this, after tea, when I’d cleaned myself. And 
on Ascension Day in special I liked to come and watch 
if they worked. For they say no rook'll work on 
Ascension Day And sure enough I never saw them 
bring even a stick on that day, but they seemed very 
thoughtful and holy in their minds, sitting each in his 
tree like Parson in pulpit. 

“Ho, rooks!" shouted Gideon. “Father's dead, and 
I be maister, and I've come to say as you shall 
keep your housen in peace, and I’ll keep ye safe from 
all but my own gun, and you’re kindly welcome to 
bide." 

The rooks peered down at him over their nests, and 
when he’d done there was a sudden clatter of wings, 
and they all swept up into the blue sky with a great 
clary, as if they were considering what was said In 
a while they came back, and settled down very serious 
and quiet So we knew they meant to bide. 

When we were back in the field, Gideon laughed a 
bit, while he was whetting his scythe on the hone, and 
he said — “I’m glad they mean stopping I be despert 
fond of rooky-pie " 

With that, he swept the scythe through the grass, 
thinnish and full of ox-eye daisies, and sighing with a 
dry sound And because 'the grass was so thin, you 
could watch the scythe, like a flash of steely light, 
through the standing crop before the swath fell And 
it seems to me now that it was like the deathly will 



46 


P ECIOUS BAN 


of God, which is ever waiting behind us till the hour 
comes to mow us down; yet not in unkindness, but 
because it is best for us that we leave growing in the 
meadow, and be brought into His safe rickyard, and 
thatched over warm with His everlasting loving- 
kindness. 



CHAPTER SIX: 

“Saddle your Dreams before you Ride 'em 

S O soon as I'd milked, Gideon being still hard at it 
in the meadow, I went upstairs and put on my 
black, and my mob-cap. I never wore it to work m, 
to save washing, and folk thought I was a heathen, 
pretty near, what with no mob-cap and no shoes oi 
stockings most of the time, but bare feet ^or clogs- 
Gideon could whittle a clog right well, and they be 
grand for doing mucky work like I did. I'd made me 
a sacking gown, too, short to the knee, for cleaning the 
beast-housen in I know everybody called me the 
barn-door savage of Sarn. But when I remembered 
the beautiful house at Lullingford that was to be, and 
the flowered gowns and dimity curtains and china, I 
didna take it to heart much. 

I was very choice of my homespun gown with the 
cross-over, and the new mob-cap trimmed with little 
sausages made of sarsnet, very new-fangled. So I did 
my hair in ringlets — one on each side and two at the 
back, down to my waist. 

I was comfortable in my mind, thinking how we 
were going to send away for simples to make me as 
beautiful as a fairy. While I milked, I thought about 
it, and while I cleaned the sties, and while I scrubbed 
the kitchen quarries 

Mother wmnocked a bit, to hear X was off to r as , 
for she was low and melancholy from abiding under 

47 



48 


PRECIOUS BANE 


the shadow of death. She’d been so used to humouring 
a tempersome man that she felt as restless as you do 
when you've just cast off the second stocking-toe of a 
pair. She’d sit quiet a bit in the chimney comer, and 
you’d hear the wheel whirring softly, like a little lych- 
fowl Then suddenly she’d give over spinning, and 
wring her hands, that always made me think of a 
mole’s little hands, lifted up to God when it be trapped. 
And she’d say, "Sunday was a week, he had no bacon 
to his tea! Sunday was a fortmt, he didna like the 
dumplings, and no wonder, for they were terrible sad, 
Prue. Twice I o’er-boiled his eggs in that last week, 
and the new smock, Prue — ” 

At that, she’d cry a long while. 

"I hivered and hovered over it, Prue, so he died 
afore it was done Oh, my dear, to think on it* It 
wanted but the shoulder-pieces and the cuffs, and it 
would ha’ been the best smock ever I made. But I 
hivered and hovered, and he couldna bide any longer 
He heard the mighty voice, child, calling among the 
ellums out yonder, and he couldna tarry for his smock, 
poor soul. All my stitches for nought ” 

"Now, Mother, you mun finish it for Gideon,” I 
said "It’ll fit Gideon right well, for he’s a fine big 
man, though not so broad as Father. But he’ll fill out 
Come his eighteenth birthday, I shouldna wonder but 
he’ll look right well in it So you’d best hurry up ” 
"Well,” she said, "well, there’s sense m that, child. 
He took the sm, to wear all his life long He shall 
have the smock ” 

She fetched Gideon’s Sunday coat, and took the 
smock out of the dresser drawer, to measure it 



"saddle your dreams" 49 

I sent up a wish that they might be enough of a size 
to content her. And so they were, and she quieted 
down again, and set off once more, whirring like a 
little lychfowl. 

But it wunna for long. She gave me a look, time 
and again, while I was putting on my mittens, and 
said — 

‘The ringlets be right nice, Prue ” And then: 
“You’ve got a very tidy figure, child ” 

And all in a minute she bent two-double over the 
wheel and began the old weariful cry — 

“Could I help it if the hare crossed my path; could 
I help it?” 

“Oh, Mother, Mother !” I beseeched her, “give over 
crying for what we canna mend I canna bear to hear 
you cry, my dear. Mother I Look ye ! I dunna mind 
at all There, there now, my Iambi” (I was used to 
call her that, because she seemed so little and so lost) 
“There, dunna take it to heart Listen what I’ll tell 
you ! Vd as lief have a hare-shotten lip as not fi> W ith 
that, I ran out of the house and through the wicket and 
up the wood path, roaring-crying. 

I cried so loud that there was a whirr of wings on 
this side and on that, and far up the glade a coney 
heard me, and sat up in the middle of the path like a 
Christian, with one paw held up, just as Parson does, 
giving the blessing. Only it was a curse that his 
cousin, the hare, gave me. I wondered why it cursed 
me so. Was it of its own free will and wish, or did 
the devil drive it? Did God begrutch me an ’usband 
and a cot of rushes, that He’d let it be so? In the years 
after, it did often seem a queer thing that I should be 



JO PRECIOUS BANE 

obliged to work weekdays and Sundays so as to earn 
enough money to put straight what a silly hare had 
put crooked. And I knew it would take a deal of 
money to cure a hare-shotten lip. There was a kind 
of sour laughter in the thought of it It called to mind 
the blackish autumn evenings, when grouse rise from 
the bitter marsh and fly betwixt the withered heather 
and the freezing sky, and laugh. Old harsh men laugh 
that way at the falling down of an enemy. And the 
good ladies of a town, big with stiff flowered silks and 
babes righteously begotten, laughed so behind their 
fans when they went to the prison to see a lovely harlot 
whipped. With that kind of bitterness a man might 
laugh when he was dying of a wound gotten in the 
king’s cause, and one came busily in while the Parson 
was reading the prayer for the dying, and cried out, 
v ‘The king doth give you an earldom, and sends you a 
bidding letter to his palace.” 

Ah ! Those be the ways grouse laugh, and that was 
how I laughed in those days But now I sit here 
between the hearth and the window, with the tea 
brewing for one that will be home afore sundown, and 
the clouds standing upon the mountains, and when I 
laugh, I laugh easy, like the woodpecker in spring. He 
was ever a laugher, was the woodpecker, and a right 
merry laugher too. He’ll fly into an ellum tree, and 
laugh to see it so green. And he’ll fly into an ash, and 
laugh to see it so bare, with only the black buds and 
no leaves. And then he’ll fly into an oak, and laugh 
fit to burst to see the young brown leaves Ah, the 
woodpecker’s a good laugher, and the laughter’s sweet 



'saddle your dreams" 51 

as a sound nut If we can laugh so at the end of 
long living, we’ve not lived in vam. 

But that evening I laughed like the grouse, and my 
heart was rebellious within me. 

Yet I could not but be pleased to think of the writ- 
ing I was glad also because it would give me a hold 
over Gideon, since if he was too harsh with Mother 
and me, I could be a bit awkward about the writing. 
I ran along by the water, feeling light and easy in my 
best sandal shoes, thinking how I’d work to get the 
stuff that was to make me as beautiful as a fairy, and 
how in a while there’d come a lover, and the axings 
would be put up in church, and in another while I’d 
sit in my own houseplace with my foot on a rocker 
and with a babe, grand and solemn, on my knee, better 
than all the French wax dolls they told of, that I’d 
never seen, but wanted very bad. 

I was contented to see the coots swimming about 
with a trail of coot chickens after them, for all the 
world as if they were on a string And I laughed to 
see the heron that lived on the far side of the water, 
and had got a missus and a nest there, standing knee- 
deep among the lilies, fair comic-struck. In after days 
I saw Gideon look like that, time and again, when he’d 
lief talk to Jancis and couldna call to mind a single 
word, or when he’d put his best cravat on and couldna 
get it to his liking, looking in the glass that he bought 
out of his second wool money, after he’d seen Jancis 
under the rosy light 

I met Jancis afore I got to the Stone House. She 
was bringing the oxen in. because they were ordered 



5 2 


PRECIOUS BAN 


for a fair and the people were coming for ’em early 
in the morning. Betwixt the two white beasts, with a 
hand on each, with all that gold hair shining, and a 
face like a white rose, she looked like the ghost of a 
beautiful lady that died a long while ago and came 
again every midsummer and fled at cockcrow. 

“Oh!” she said, “you’ve gotten ringlets, Prue. Shall 
I have ringlets for Sarn Wake?” 

“As you please,” I answered, very snappy. For she 
was pretty enough without ringlets, and her mouth 
more a rose than ever I thought how rich the ringlets 
Would look, hanging down like ripe yellow bunches of 
white currants when they be traced very thick on the 
boughs, and she saying “O !” and the fellows wantm 
to kiss her. 

When she’d fastened the beasts in the trevis, we 
went indoors. “Mister Beguildy!” I called out, “I 
want you to learn me to read and write and sum, and 
11 you know. I’m to pay in work. Gideon and me’s 
going to get rich, and buy a place in Lullingford, and 
have maids and men, and flowered gowns for me, and 
china — ” 

Beguildy looked at me over the rim of a great 
measure of mead “Saddle your dreams afore you 
ride ’em, my wench,” he said. 

“How mean you, Mister Beguildy?” 

“The answer’s under your mob-cap,” says he. “If 
I be to learn ye, there’s to be no argling, no questions 
and no answers. I say the saying, but you mun find 
the meaning Now you come back to me a week- 
to-day and tell me what I meant, and then for a bit 



"saddle your dreams'* 5^ 

of a treat I'll show you the bottle with the old Squire 
in it, old Camperdine, great-grandad to this un, him 
as came again so bad every Harvest Home, and sang 
a roaring bawdy song somewhere up in the chancel, 
only none could see un, so none could catch un.” 

“Saving you ” 

Beguildy smiled He'd got a very slow stealing 
smile, that came like a ripple on the water, and stayed 
a long while 

“Ah. Saving me. I caught un proper." 

“What way did you?” 

“If I told you, Prue Sarn, you'd know as much as 

_ _ >> 
me 

“But do tell how you got him into the bottle !” 

“Dear to goodness ! You’ve forgotten the bargain 
No questions.” He picked up the hammer and beai 
upon the row of flints, making out a little tune. And 
with that, in came Missis Beguildy, like the dancing 
woman at the fair comes in when they sound the drum. 
She’d got a basket of trout and a couple of fowl she 
was going to dress for the Wake the oxen were going 
to. She’d got on an old bottle-green hat of Beguildy’s, 
tall in the crown, such as gentlemen of the road were 
partial to then, and it looked very outlandish atop of 
her frizzy grey hair 

“Did you hear tell?” she said to me. 

She’d got a deep, solemn voice, and as she was too 
busy to speak often, everything she said seemed very 
weighty, as if the Town Crier said it, standing on the 
steps of the market in his braided coat. 

“I heard as the Devil was dead,” said Beguildy, “but 



54 


P EC 10 U S BANE 


it inna true, for I met un yestreen, and very pleasant 
spoken he was indeed, and right pleased to have your 
Feyther’s company, Prue ” 

“Now hush your gabble,” said Missis Beguildy, pull- 
ing the feathers out of the fowl in handfuls, so that 
the room was like a snowstorm. “Did you hear tell, 
Prue, as poor John Weaver strayed off the road going 
through the woods in the dark of the moon last night, 
and was drownded in Blackmere? Death’s very catch- 
ing, poor soul.” 

“Why, it wanted but an hour to dawn when he left,” 
I said. 

“Time enow, time enow. It’s dark as Egypt in the 
woods down yonder ” 

“Who’ll take his place?” 

“They seyn there’s a nephew learning the trade 
But he’s bound ’prentice for a year or two. They’ll 
make shift with a hired mon, I reckon.” 

“And it ud be better, a power,” burst out Missis 
Beguildy, “if you took that sort of job.” 

She took the poker from the fire and singed the 
fowl very shrewdly, as if it met have been Beguildy. 

“Woman, I’ve better things to think on than weaving 
weeds to cover the poor dying body. Dunna I snare souls 
like conies, and keep ’em from troubling the lives of 
men? Canna I bless, and they are blessed, curse, and 
they are cursed? Canna I cure warts and the chin- 
cough and barrenness and the rheumatics, and tell the 
future and find water, though it be in the depth of the 
earth? Dunna the fowls I bless beat all other fowls 
in the cock-fighting? Ah, and if I chose, I could make 
a waxen man for everv man in the parish, and con- 



SADDLE YOU DR A S 


C i 


> 9 


55 


sume them away, wax, men, and all. Canna I do all 
that, woman?” 

“So you say, my dear.” 

Missis Beguildy set the fowl’s legs to rights and ran 
a skewer through, to make all safe. 

Seeing that the Wizard was becoming very angry, 
I told his missus how I was going to be his scholar, 
and he was to learn me to spell and write 

“Will your headpiece stand it, child she asked 
For she always thought, in common with many people, 
that if there was anything wrong with a person’s out- 
ward seeming, there must be summat wrong with their 
mind as well. By that measure, Jancis, who was so silly 
that oftentimes she appeared to be well-nigh simple, 
would be a very clever woman. 

“Ah. Prue’s headpiece be right enow,” said 
Beguildy. “Only I do think there be too many ques- 
tions m it. But her’U fettle into a good scholar, will 
Prue. We’ll start to-day ’s a week, Prue. Jancis, you 
can get the besom and sweep out my room a bit Put 
the tuthree books together, gather me some quills, and 
be very careful of all my bottles, for you never know 
who’s in ’em. We dunna want any frittening about 
the place. Oh, and you met as well turn them toads 
out from behind the locker; they be all dead ” 

“Prue,” says Jancis, when I went out, “if you’ll tell 
me the way to make ringlets like that, I’ll tell you 
what Feyther’s old riddle-me-ree means I know, 
because he's said it over and over, and I’ve heard un 
tell the answer.” 

“I made ’em round and round the poker, my dear,” 
I said. “Not too hot, and give h a good clean first 



56 PRECIOUS BANE 

But you needna tell me the answer to the riddle-me-ree, 
for I’d liefer find it out” 

The dew came showering on to my gown as I went 
past the bushes of wild roses at the wood gate, spilling 
out of the hearts of the blossoms It was so quiet that 
I could hear the sheep cropping across the corner of 
the mere in the glebe, and the fish rising out in the 
middle, and the water lapping against the big, stiff 
leaves of the bulrushes. 

I felt like a lady, walking out in my best on a week- 
day It wasna often that I could be spared, and it was 
to be a deal less often now. So I was glad Gideon 
wanted me to be a scholar, for once every week I 
should get the afternoon and evening off 

When a breeze came, the leaves lapped up the silence 
like the tongues of little creatures drinking Up in 
heaven there were clouds like the bit of lace on 
Mother’s wedding-gown, and a setting moon as green 
as a young beech leaf And down under the polished 
water was another moon, not quite so bright, and other 
clouds, not quite so lacy, and the shadow of the spire, 
very faint and ghostly, pointing across the water at us. 



chapter seven: Pippins and J r o elle 


M OTHER looked up when I went in. She was 
stitching the smock. 

“What a big girl you look, coming in, Prue,” she 
said. “And you not near sixteen yet!” 

I asked where Gideon was 

“Cutting by moonlight Such a lad I never saw! 
Labours and sweats as if summat was after un.” 

“Well, the moon's setting down behind the church 
croft now, mother,” I said, “so he'll be bound to give 
over.” 

I went to the meadow. He'd got as much cut as a 
full-grown man could ha' done. He was rubbing the 
scythe down with a handful of grass, and honing it 
for putting away, as I came over the field. I thought 
it sounded nice, coming over the wet, dimmery swaths, 
and sad as well When I called to mind all the things 
he'd taken on shoulder, I was sorry for un 
“Come thy ways in to supper, Gideon,” I said. 

“By gum! You look like a ghost, stealing out from 
under the dark hedge, all in your blacks, with that 
white face.” Then he seemed to remember him of 
all we'd got in hand. He began to cross-waund me 
about the work 

“Shut the fowl up?” 

“No ” 

“Be quick about it, then; it should ha' bin done this 
hour. Looked the traps ?” 


57 



58 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“No. I thought you would ” 

“When Tm mowing, I canna do ought else, savin 
die jobs that are too heavy for you ” 

“There binna many of them ” 

“When you’ve done the fowl and the traps, you ca 
set a tu-three mght-lmes in the mere. I’ve got some 
sawmg to do yet ” 

“It’ll take a terrible long while, and I’m no good at 
setting the night-lines,” I said, nearly crying, being 
tired already, and it late, and another day’s work 
beginning, seemingly 

“Did you make a bargain, or didna you?” 

“Ah, I did, Gideon ” 

“Then abide by it ” 

Wandering about the place when Mother was abed 
and Gideon in the fields, I felt lonesome I wished 
there was some shorter way to be as beautiful as a 
fairy Then a thought came to me all of a sudden 
I wonder it didna come afore, but then I’d never much 
minded having a hare-lip afore. It seems to me that 
often it’s only when you begin to see other folks mind- 
ing a thing like that for you, that you begin to mind 
it for yourself I make no doubt, if Eve had been so 
unlucky as to have such a thing as a hare-lip, she’d 
not have minded it till Adam came by, looking doubt- 
fully upon her, and the Lord, frowning on His marred 
handiwork. 

Now my thought was this: why shouldna I, that 
was in sore need of healing, do as the poor folk did 
here at Sarn in time past, and even now and again in 
our own day Namely, at the troubling of the waters 
which comes every year in the month of August, to 



PIPPINS AND JA GONELLES 59 


step down into the mere in sight of all the folk at the 
Wake, dressed in a white smock. It was said that 
this troubling of the water was the same as that which 
w T as at Bethesda, and though it had not the power of 
that water, which healed every year, and for which 
no disease was too bad, it being in that marvellous 
Holy Land where miracles be daily bread, yet every 
seventh year it was supposed to cure one, if the disease 
was not too deadly. You must go down into the water 
fasting, and with many curious ancient prayers. These 
I could learn, when I could read, for they were in an 
old book that Parson kept in the vestry Not that he 
believed it, nor quite disbelieved it, but only that it 
was very rare and strange 

The thing I misdoubted most was it being such a 
public thing. I had need be a very brazen piece to 
make a show of myself thus, as if I were a harlot in 
a sheet, or a witch brought to the ducking-stool. And 
sure enough, when I spoke of it timidly to Mother and 
Gideon, they liked it not at all 

“What,” says Gideon, “make yourself a nay-word 
and a show to three hundred folk? You met as well 
go for a fat woman at the fair and ha* done with it ” 

“Only I amna fat,” I said. 

“That's neither here nor there. You'd be making 
yourself a talked-about wench from Sarn to Lulling- 
ford and from Plash to Bramton Going down into 
the water the like of any poor plagued 'oman without 
a f arden ! Folk ud say, There's Sarn's sister douked 
into the water like poor folk was used to do, because 
Sarn's too near to get the Doctor's mon, let alone the 
Doctor.' And when I went to market, they'd laugh, 



6o 


PRECIOUS BANE 


turning their faces aside. Never shall you do such 
a brassy thing* It ud be better, a power, if you took 
and made some mint cakes and spiced ale for the fair 
when the time comes, like Mother was used to do 
You’d make a bit that way.” 

“Yes, my dear,” said Mother, “you do as Sarn says. 
It’ll bring m a bit, and you’ll see all as is to be seen, 
which you couldna, saving in the way of business, for 
it’ll be scarce two months from Father’s death And 
come to think of it, what an unkind thing it would be 
for a poor widow to have it flung in her face afore 
such a mort of people that her girl had got a hare- 
shotten lip ” 

She began to wring her little hands, and I knew 
she’d go back to the old cry in a minute, so I gave m 
“You’ve got to promise me you’ll never do such a 
thing, Prue,” ordered Gideon 

“I promise for this year, but no more ” 

“You’ve got a powerful curst will of your own, 
Prue, but promise or no, you shanna do such a thing, 
never in life shall you*” 

“And in death I shanna mind,” I said “For if I 
do well and go to heaven I shall be made all new, 
and I shall be as lovely as a lily on the mere And if 
I do ill and go to hell, I’ll sell my soul a thousand 
times, but I’ll buy a beautiful face, and I shall be glad- 
some for that though I be damned ” 

And I ran away into the attic and cried a long while 
But the quiet of the place, and the loneliness of it 
comforted me at long last, and I opened the shutter 
that gave on the orchard and had a great pear tree 
trained around it, and I took my knitting out of my 



PIPPINS AND JA GONELLES 6l 


reticule For it was on Saturday after tea that I had 
spoken of the troubling of the water, and the week’s 
work being nearly done, I had my tidy gown on, and 
the reticule to match. Sitting there looking into the 
green trees, with the smell of our hay coming freshly 
on the breeze, mixed with the scent of the wild roses 
and meadows sweet in the orchard ditch, I hearkened to 
the blackbirds singing near and far. When they were a 
long way off you could scarcely disentangle them from 
all the other birds, for there was a regular charm of 
them, thrushes and willow-wrens, seven-coloured 
linnets, canbottlins, finches, and wnting-maisters . It 
was a weaving of many threads, with one maister- 
thread of clear gold, a very comfortable thing to hear. 

I thought maybe love was like that — a lot of 
coloured threads, and one maister thread of pure gold. 

The attic was close under the thatch, and there were 
many nests beneath the eaves, and a continual twitter- 
ing of swallows. The attic window was in a big gable, 
and the roof on one side went right down to the 
ground, with a tall chimney standing up above the 
roof-tree. Somewhere among the beams of the attic 
was a wild bees’ nest, and you could hear them making 
a sleepy soft murmuring, and morning and evening 
you could watch them going in a line to the mere for 
water. So, it being very still there, with the fair 
shadows of the apple trees peopling the orchard out- 
side, that was void, as were the near meadows, Gideon 
being in the far field making hay-cocks, which I also 
should have been doing, there came to me, I cannot 
tell whence, a most powerful sweetness that had never 
come to me afore. It was not religious, like the good- 



62 


PRECIOUS BANE 


ness of a text heard at a preaching. It was beyond 
that. It was as if some creature made all of light had 
come on a sudden from a great way off, and nestled 
in my bosom. On all things there came a fair, lovely 
look, as if a different air stood over them. It is a 
look that seems ready to come sometimes on those 
gleamy mornings after rain, when they say, “So fair 
the day, the cuckoo is going to heaven/’ 

Only this was not of the day, but of summat beyond 
It. I cared not to ask what it was. For when the nut- 
hatch comes into her own tree, she dunna ask who 
planted it, nor what name it bears to men. For the 
free is all to the nut-hatch, and this was all to me. 
Afterwards, when I had mastered the reading of the 
book, I read — 

His banner over me zvas love . 

And it called to mind that evening. But if you 
should have said, ‘Whose banner?” I couldna have 
answered. And even now, when Parson says, “It was 
the power of the Lord working in you,” I’m not sure 
in my own mind. For there was nought in it of 
churches nor of folks, praying nor praising, sinning 
nor repenting. It had to do with such things as bird- 
song and daffadown-dillies rustling, knocking their 
heads together in the wind And it was as wilful in 
its coming and going as a breeze over the standing 
corn It was a queer thing, too, that a woman who 
spent her days in sacking, cleaning sties and beast- 
housen, living hard, considering over fardens, should 
come of a sudden into such a marvel as this. For 



PIPPINS AND JARGONELLES 63 


though it was so quiet, it was a great miracle, and it 
changed my life, for when I was lost for something 
to turn to, Fd run to the attic, and it was a core of 
sweetness m much bitter. 

Though the visitation came but seldom, the taste of 
it was in the attic all the while. I had but to creep in 
there, and hear the bees making their murmur, and 
smell the woody, o'er-sweet scent of kept apples, and 
hear the leaves rasping softly on the window-frame, 
nd watch the twisted grey twigs on the sky, and I’d 
remember it and forget all else. There was a great 
wooden bolt on the door, and I was used to fasten it, 
though there was no need, for the attic was such a 
lost-and- forgotten place nobody ever came there but 
the travelling weaver, and Gideon in apple harvest, 
and me. Nobody would ever think of looking for mt 
there, and it was parlour and church both to me 

The roof came down to the floor all round, and 
all the beams and rafters were oak, and the floor went 
up and down like stormy water The apples and pears 
had their places according to kind all round the room. 
There were codlins and golden pippins, brown russets 
and scarlet crabs, biffins, nonpareils and queanmgs, big 
green bakers, pearmains and red-streaks. We had a 
mort of pears too, for in such an old garden, always 
in the family, every generation 'll put in a few trees. 
We had Worcester pears and butter pears, jargonelle, 
bergamot and Good Christian Just after the last 
gathering, the attic used to be as bright as a church 
window, all reds and golds. And the colours of the 
fruit could always bring my visitation back to me, 
though there was not an apple or pear in the place at 



64 


PRECIOUS BANE 


the time, because the colour was wed to the scent, 
which had been there time out of mind Every one 
of those round red cheeks used to smile at poor Prue 
Sarn, sitting betwixt the weaving-frame and the win- 
dow, all by her lonesome I found an old locker, given 
up to the mice, and scrubbed it, and put a fastening on 
it, and kept my ink and quills there, and my book, 
and the Bible, which Mother said I could have, since 
neither she nor Gideon could read in it 

One evening in October I was sitting there, with a 
rushlight, practising my writing The moon blocked 
the little window, as if you took a salver and held it 
there All round the walls the apples crowded, like 
people at a fair waiting to see a marvel I thought to 
myself that they ought to be saying one to another, 
“Be still now 1 Hush your noise ? Give over jostling !” 

I fell to thinking how all this blessedness of the 
attic came through me being curst For if I hadna had 
a hare-lip to frighten me away into my own lonesome 
soul, this would never have come to me The apples 
would have crowded all in vain to see a marvel, for I 
should never have known the glory that came from 
the other side of silence. 

Even while I was thinking this, out of nowhere sud 
denly came that lovely thing, and nestled in my heart 
like a seed from the core of love. 



Book Tw 

chapter one Riding to Market 

I N telling this story I take little count of time. For 
when the heart is in stress, what is time? It is 
nought Does the bridegroom, that has clemmed for 
his love a long while, hearken to the watchman’s voice 
telling over the hastening hours ? Does he that dies 
in the dawn care to what hour the dial points when the 
sun arises, that rises not on him ? And when we poor 
beings take up our stand against all the might of 
the things that be, striving to win through to our 
peace, or to what we think is our peace, when we are 
dumbfounded like a baited creature in the bull-ring, 
then we forget time. So four years went by, and 
though a deal happened out in the world, nought hap- 
pened to us 

Rumours came to us of battles over sea and dis- 
contents at home The French went to Russia and 
never came back, save a few. 

At last, one golden summer evening, there came one 
riding all in a lather to tell of the great victory of 
Waterloo But the news Gideon liked best, which 
came in the same year, was the news of the corn tax 
'‘Fetch me a mug of home-brewed, Prue ,” he 
shouted, when he raught home from market and told 
“It’s the best news ever we had. We’ll be rich 
65 


me. 



66 


PRECIOUS BANE 


in a tuthree years We must get more land under 
corn. I thought corn would never come amiss, but I 
didna hope for anything like this’ll be When Callard 
came up to my stall with the tidings, I was fair comic- 
struck 'Dang me!’ I says. £ What ? ’ I says 'Make 
the furrmers pay to lug their corn to us ? ’ 'Ah, that’s 
the size of it,’ says Callard 'And that’ll make it scarce, 
seesta, and that’ll make it dear, seesta*’ 'Why, mon, 
I’ve seen that this long while,’ I says 'But I never 
thought they’d do it ’ And what d’ye think I did then, 
Prue? Why, I axed un to the Mug of Cider and stood 
un a drink! So you can tell how comic-struck I must 
ha’ bin. And now all we’ve got to do is to drive 
plough, both of us.” 

So there was a prospect of living harder than we 
had in the four years gone, when we’d slaved from 
daybreak to dark, and in the dark too, by the wandering 
light of the horn lanthom It wouldna have come so 
hard to me, if it hadna been all for the money, if I 
could have been a bit house-proud, and if Gideon had 
taken a pride in fettling the farm But there was 
none of that. It was just scrat and scrape to get the 
money out of the place and be off 

I grew as lanky as a clothes prop, and Mother began 
to show signs of wringing her hands about that too 
For being little herself, and Missis Beguildy and Jancis 
and most of the women about being little, it seemed 
meet to Mother that a woman should be small So 
when I grew and grew, and was very slender also ( for 
indeed, with such a deal of work and little time to eat, 
anybody would be slender) she said I was like a poplar 
in an unthinned woodland or an o’er-tall bulrush in the 



RIDING TO MARKET 


67 


mere, and I got used to being ashamed of my tallness 
as well as the other trouble, until — -but I munna be too 
forrard with the tale 

Gideon wore his smock and looked right well m it 
He was two-and-twenty now, a man grow T n, very per- 
sonable, broad in the shoulder, with a firm, well-knit 
figure As his body set, his mind set with it, harder 
than ten-days' ice. He'd no eye for the girls at mar- 
ket, though there was a many looked at him And 
once at market when he was wearing Father's blue 
coat with the brass buttons, Squire Camperdme’s 
daughter (not the squire in the bottle, but his great- 
grandson) came riding past his booth, and smiled at 
him. But Gideon would only laugh when I questioned 
him, and stroke his chm, and look at me wearily. There 
was no doubt he was a very comely man, and it used 
to seem to me unfair that it was me, and not Gideon, 
that was born after the hare looked at Mother. For 
Gideon could have grown what they call a moustachio 
and looked very well, and none need have known he'd 
got a hare-shotten lip. But with me it was past 
hiding. 

As to the farm, it was doing pretty well. We'd 
got a big flock of sheep, so that the shearing took us 
above a week. We'd got a herd of pigs that kept 
Mother busy all the time the acorns lasted, tending 
them in the oakwood. The grass-meadow by the 
orchard was under wheat, but we had no good of it the 
first year, for the wheat sprouted and ackerspired in 
the ear, it being a very wet season. 

There was enough saved to buy two oxen fo i 
ploughing d other heavy work about the place. 



68 


PRECIOUS BANE 


Being a bit out of fashion, they were not very dear. 
Gideon said that when he went to buy them I could go 
too and give a hand driving them back. And I could 
look in the shop windows while he haggled over the 
beasts, and then we could look at the house he’d set his 
mind on buying when it should come into the market 
But Mother must know nought about the house, or 
she’d tell folk. “And if they thought I had such a 
thing in mind, they’d bant all my prices and double all 
their own, and where should we be then?” said Gideon 

You may guess I was glad to be going pleasuring, 
for I’d scarcely been away from Sarn since Father 
died, and Lullingford always seemed a wonderful 
place to me. 

I was m the cornfield, leasing, when Gideon said it, 
he being just back from market, coming across the 
field m the last light of evening; and the shadows of 
him and Bendigo stretched away over the grass from 
the far gate to the orchard as I watched them come. 

“But how’ll I go ?” I asked. “I canna ride pillion, 
for there be the panniers.” 

“If you’ll do a bit extra leasing, I’ll hire the mill 
pony when I take the next corn to be ground. Going 
to Plash for a lesson to-morrow?” 

“Ah.” 

“Then fetch back the beasts, oot, and I’ll go with corn 
Saturday.” 

“But I’ve leased till there’s scarce an ear left in any 
part of this field or the other,” I said. 

“Ask Beguildy to let you lease his. I saw the 
lugging their corn.” 

“But Jancis and Missis Beguildy — ” 



RIDING TO MARKET 


69 


“Now you know very well Jancis is too bone-idle to 
pick up as much as an ear. Though I like her right 
well, and as for looks — ” 

He stopped, and stood with his hand on Bendigo's 
neck, gazing away to where Plash shone like bright 
honey in the long light, dreaming. 

It was but seldom Gideon sat still, and very seldom 
he gave his mind to any thought but the thought of 
making money. But the name of Jancis would often 
quieten him, and when he fell into one of his silences 
he would make me think of a tranced man that was 
once brought to Beguildy to be awakened And he 
made me think of a brooding summer tree on a wind- 
less day, minding its own thoughts above the water 
He was like the lych-gate yew that dreams the year 
long, and keeps its dream as secret as it keeps its red 
fruit under the boughs. Gideon had been used to fall 
into a dream like this ever since he saw Jancis under 
the rosy light Times, he’d mutter “No, no!” and 
shift his shoulders as though from a weight, and bestir 
himself, and be more of a driver than ever For 
Gideon was a driver if ever there was one, and what 
he drove was his own flesh and blood. It seemed a pity 
to me that a young man should be so set in his ways, 
and have no pleasant times, for I was mighty fond 
of Gideon I knew well where he went of a Sunday, 
when he took off his smock and put on the bottle-blue 
coat He was a deal more regular at Plash than ever 
he was at church The rosy light started it, but it 
would have likely been the same, anyway. Missis 
Beguildy told me how he’d come and knock, and Jancis 
would run to the door in her best gown and a ribbon 



70 


PRECIOUS BA WE 


or a flower in her hair, and go red and white by turns. 
And I saw for myself too, when she came to our place, 
how she would pant under her kerchief, and I won- 
dered how this might be. For Gideon was just Gideon 
to me, but to her he was fire and tempest and the very 
spring, and his voice was as the voice of the mighty 
God. 

He’d come in, Missis Beguildy said, with no word, 
and he’d sit down, and Beguildy would scowl, having 
no mind for Jancis to marry. He’d scowl from the 
inner-most chimney comer, for he felt the cold very 
bad, living in such a damp place and being a very stay- 
at-home man. And Gideon would scowl back. 

Jancis blushed and trembled over her spinning, tak- 
ing sideways looks at Gideon as a wren will And 
Missis Beguildy set her face like a flint, and laid plans 
to get her goodman out of the kitchen She dearly 
loved to see a bit of lovering going on, being short of 
summat to think of and talk of. She wanted to be a 
granny too. So she’d go to any length, but she’d get 
Beguildy out of the room. Once, when Gideon was 
glowering more than common, being vtry desirous to 
kiss Jancis because she’d put on some new ribbon or 
what-not to set her oft, and when Missis Beguildy 
had called her man, and come back and argufied, and 
gone out and called again, but still he’d only sit there 
like a goblin in the dark of the fire, she even went so 
far as to set a light to the thatch on the barn Ah! 
She didf She was a very strong-minded woman. 
And she kept the poor man, who couldn’t abide any 
work with his hands, running to-and-agen with buckets 
all evening. When he’d nearly douted one jplace, she 



RIDING TO MARKET *]l 

set light to another while he was dipping water from 
the lake 

“l kept the flint and tinder right hot, my dear,” she 
said to me. And she laughed ! I never saw a woman 
laugh more lungeously over anything than she did over 
that She said she took a peep at the window, just 
to encourage her, and she could see through the clear 
hits in among the bottle-glass that they were sitting 
side by side on the settle. 

“Very right and proper!” she says, and runs back to 
her work. 

Another time she loosed the sow, and it made 
straight for our oakwood, she having taken it there 
afore. Beguildy liked his rasher, and the sow meant 
many a bacon-pig, so for fear she should come to 
harm, he took stick and went after her, cursing con- 
siderable. After a bit he began to be suspicious, be- 
cause any ill that came, came on a Sunday, and he liked 
his day of rest, though he was a heathen man. So he 
said to Gideon, “There’s no luck with you When you 
come, harm brews Keep off ” 

So he had to give over going. Then he wiled Jancis 
into the woods, and Fd see them going up the dim 
ways, rainy or frosty was no matter, she with her face 
like a white rose, shining, and he looking down at. 
her, loving, and angered to be loving. When they 
were in the woods, Missis Beguildy was so interested 
in the wizard’s bottles with the ghosts in them (so he 
said) that he’d have hard work to answer her ques- 
tions. And she’d give him such a tea that it lasted 
nearly to supper. But he found out. He began to 
onder why Jancis had taken such an affection for 



72 


PRECIOUS BANE 


Tivvy, it being Tivvy she said she went to see. And 
as he couldn't speak to Sexton, being at daggers 
drawn, he followed her one evening unbeknown And 
when she got home, he leathered her so that her eyes 
were red for weeks, and she came running to Gideon 
all bedraggled with tears. He was in a rage with 
Beguildy, and he told Jancis he'd lief wed with her, 
only not till he'd won through, and was rich For 
how could he get along, he said, with a helpless one 
like Jancis clinging to him, and a tribe of children, 
very likely ? But he was moody and troubled in mind, 
for he could see Jancis but seldom, Beguildy being so 
watchful I thought maybe the plan to show me the 
house he wanted was to comfort himself and 
strengthen his will, because he was afraid of giving 
in. tie wanted to give in, mind you, for he was sore 
set on Jancis, only he was fixed, and when he was 
fixed he couldna let himself give in, not if it was ever 
so. 

It turned out that we couldna borrow the mill pony 
for a good few weeks, because she'd gone lame So 
the harvest was long over, winter upon us, and Christ- 
mas drawing nigh, when they sent a message to say 
we could have the loan of it for the Christmas market, 
for they'd just bought one of the old horses from the 
Lullmgford and Silverton coach, and they would drive 
that to market themselves. I may say I was very 
pleased to think of the outing, and watched the weather 
very anxiously, for it boded snow 

I was up at four on market day, setting the place 
to rights for Mother and getting the things together 
for market. Eggs and dressed fowl we had in plenty. 



riding to market 


73 


nd greens and apples and a bit of butter Polishing the 
apples in the attic, peace came upon me, as it ever did 
up there, since the time I told of While the rush- 
light flickered in the cold air, and the mice scuttled, I 
stood at the open window that was like an oblong of 
black paper. No sound came in. Nought stirred out- 
side Even the mere was frozen round the edges, so 
that the ducks must go skating every morning afore 
they could come at the water. The world was all so 
piercing still that it was almost like a voice crying out 
It was used to seem to me that when the world was 
so quiet, it was like being along of somebody as knew 
you very well, ah ! like being with your dear acquain- 
tance. 

Down in the dark bam the cock crew, thin and 
sweet, and I thought it sounded like no earthly bird; 
but maybe that was because I was in the attic, where 
things were always new. You may think it strange 
that a woman like me should think such things, being 
one that worked with my hands always, at poor harsh 
tasks, whereas you’d expect such thoughts to come 
to fine ladies sitting at their tapestry work. But I was 
so lonesome, and had such a deal of time for thinking, 
and what with that and the booklearning I was get- 
ting, all sorts of thoughts grew up in my mind, like 
flowering rushes and forget-me-nots coming into blow 
in a poor marshy place, that else had nought. And I 
can never see that it did much harm, for the thoughts 
seldom came but in the attic, and they did never make 
me dreamy over my work. 

So now, hearing the clear sound of our game-cock 
crying out upon the dawn, that was yet more than two 



74 


PRECIOUS BANE 


hours away, I ran downstairs all of a lantun-puff to 
get the breakfast When Gideon came in, it was all 
ready, and a great fire roaring, for we need never stint 
of wood at Sarn, which was much to be thankful for 
at a time when many poor families in England must 
herd together six or seven in one cottage to boil their 
kettles all on one fire. I was always thankful for our 
plenteous wood, that cost nought, and need not take 
up too much of Gideon’s time neither, for if I burnt 
more than he cut I could make shift to chop it myself. 

We were as snug as could be, sitting in the merry 
firelight with a red glow shining on the quarries and 
the ware and the spinning-wheels in the corner I was 
pleased to think Mother wasna to be lonesome, for I’d 
asked Tivvy to come and keep her company, since I 
never could enjoy anything if one I loved was lone- 
some or sad. Shaking the cloth out of the door after 
it got light, I could see her red cloak coming along 
under the dark woods; for as Tivvy never did any- 
thing nor thought anything, she had all her time to 
herself, as you met say, and so she had no cause to be 
late. 

Gideon had roughed Bendigo and the mill pony 
overnight, so all being ready and the sun just risen, we 
set off. 

All the lake was full of red lights, as if our farm 
was on fire, reflected in the water. The black pines 
stood with their arms out, dripping with hoar frost, 
all white-over, so that the tips of their droopin 
branches were like your fingers when you take them 
from the suds. The rooks were very contented, caw- 
ing soft and pleasant as if they knew their breakfast 



RIDING TO MARKET 


75 


was ready so soon as our ploughland thawed a bit, and 
m the stackyard there was a great murmuration of 
starlings 

“Bring me a fairing!” screams Tivvy from across 
the water. 

Gideon looked sullen, and I knew the only fairing 
he’d a mind to bring was one for Jancis. So I called 
out — “I will What shall it be?” 

“A bit of cherry-coloured sarsnet to tie up my hair,” 
she calls. For though she was a foolish piece in most 
things, she knew very well she’d got pretty curls, bright 
brown and thick. She’d toss them ever so when 
Gideon was there, and take every chance to miscall 
Beguildy, though she durstna say anything against 
Jancis, for fear Gideon might blaze out. But she was 
clever enough in this, as oftentimes a stupid girl is 
when she’s in love, and she could always make it seem 
a very poor, ill-liking sort of thing to be sweet on a 
wizard’s wench, and a grand thing to be m love with 
the sexton’s daughter, whose dad could mouth texts 
as fast as the wizard could mouth charms 

It was a grand morning, very crispy underfoot, with 
moor-fowl about, especially widgeon. We were riding 
to the hills. Across the far woods and the rough 
moors beyond, and the bits of ploughland here and 
there, and the frosty stubble where partridges ran from 
the noise of the trotting, we could see the hills, as blue 
as pansies. Promising hills, they seemed to me. 
There was a clatter in the spinney, and a flock of wood- 
pigeons got up and took their flight, with wings flash- 
ing blue in the sun, for the same hills. It was as if 
some wonderful thing was there, as it might be a heab 



76 


PRECIOUS BANE 


ing well, or some other miracle, or a holy person such 
as there were of old time 

I said as much to Gideon, but he was looking away 
over shoulder to Plash and the long spire of blue 
smoke going up from the Stone House. He began to 
whistle below his breath, for he’d never whistle out- 
right, even at the merriest, but always very quiet and 
to his mommets So I said no more, and m a while 
our old road ended, and we came into the main road 
where it was bad going, for whatever the weather was, 
the road the Romans made was good going, and even 
better than the turnpike. In a little we passed the 
milk folk going soberly along, and then a tuthree more, 
and soon we were riding up the hill into the town, 
with the plovers crying about us in their winter voices. 

So we rode to Lulhngford to look upon a dream 
For the house we were about seeing was woven into 
the dream of Gideon’s life The house, that is, along 
With what it meant, the maids and the men, the balls 
and the dinners with the gentry at the Mug of Cider at 
election time 

When we were going through the ford as you come 
into the lower part of the place, Gideon said — 

“I wish Jancis was riding pillion with me ” 

"Why, so she shall,” I said, “the very next time we 
come Why shouldna she come every time ?” 

“There be Beguildy.” 

“Oh, Beguildy ' I’ll wile un with his own spells and 
charm un with his own charms,” I said, and I laughed 
as we went up the narrow street, so that heads came 
out of windows here and there to see what it might 
be. 



A KET 


I D I N G TO 


7 / 


“Husht now, girV” says Gideon. “Laugh quiet 
Not like a wild curlew ” 

"But a curlew’s very good company, and a pleas- 
anter voice I seldom heard, and I’m pleased with the 
compliment, lad ” 

And indeed I was pleased with the world and ail 
For there was summat about Lullmgford, as if a 
different air blew there, and as if there was a brighter 
sun and a safer daylight. I knew not why it was It 
was a quiet place, though not near so quiet as now. 
Folk go off to the cities these days, but when I was 
young they gathered together from many miles around 
into the little market towns Still, it was quiet, and 
very peaceful, though not with the stillness of Sam, 
that was almost deathly, times. There was one broad 
street of black and white houses, jutting out above, 
and gabled, and made into rounded shop windows 
below They stood back in little gardens At the top 
of the street was the church, long and low, with a tre-. 
mendous high steeple, well carved and pleasant to see 
Under the shadow of the church was the big, comfort- 
able inn, with its red sign painted with a tall blue mug 
of cider It had red curtains in the windows, and a 
glow of firelight in the winter, and it seemed to say, 
in being so nigh the church, that its landlord’s con- 
science was clear and his ale honest, and that none 
would get more than was good for him there But of 
the last I a little doubt 

Of a Sunday the shops had each a bit of white 
canvas stuff hung afore the window like an apron, 
which made it seem very pious and respectable There 
were few shops, and only one of each kind, so you 



PRECIOUS BANE 


;8 

could never run from one to another, cheapenin 
goods. 

There was the Green Canister, where they kept 
groceries and spools and pots and pans, and there was 
the maltster’s and the butcher’s and the baker’s, for 
Lullingford was well up with the times, since it wasna 
all towns could boast a baker in days when nearly 
everybody baked at home. Then there was the leather 
shop, for boots and harness, and the tailor’s, which 
was only open in winter, for in summer he travelled 
round the country doing piecework. There was the 
smithy too, where the little boys crowded after Dame- 
School every winter dusk, begging to warm their hands 
and roast chestnuts and taters. It was a pleasant thing 
to see the sparks go up, roaring, and to feel the hearty 
glow about you, warming you to the heart’s core, with 
nothing to pay or to do, like love. Near by the smithy 
was the row of little cottages where was the weaver’s. 
Like the tailor, he went abroad over the country-side 
in summer, and sometimes to a village in winter, if 
it was open weather. But in hard weather he stayed 
in his snug slip of a house and heard the wind roaring 
over from the mountains north to the mountains 
south I never could tell why this cottage drew me, 
even from a child. It had a narrow garden and a walk 
of red brick, an oaken paling, and bushes of lavender 
on either side the walk Three well-whitened steps led 
up to the door, and there was a window of many 
little panes, not bottle-glass. Above was another win- 
dow. At the back, a patch of garden ran down to the 
meadows, and there was a second window in the living- 
room that looked over this garden and the meadows, 



I D I N G TO 


ARKET 


79 


to the mountains This I knew, because I went there 
once with a message m the old weaver's time Upon 
the front of the house was a vine, very old and twisted. 
This was a rare thing m a place of such hard winters, 
but the town was sheltered by the mountains, and the 
weaver's house faced south, so the vine throve, and 
though in cold seasons the grapes didna always ripen, 
in some years they ripened very well. What with the 
vine and the lavender and the pleasant shadows on the 
strip of green lawn, and the lilac tree that stood beside 
the door, and what with the great weaving frame in 
the living-room, which was comfortable with firelight 
shining on brasses and copper vessels, and very well 
kept, what with it all, I could never pass it without a 
look of longing I was used to envy the fat thrushes 
hopping on the lawn It drew me as heaven draws the 
poor sinner, weary of his miry wanderings. 

So to-day, as we rode by, I said — 

“Gideon, what is it makes that house different to the 
other housen ? ” 

“It inna different ” 

“Oh, but it's as different as if it was builded of stone 
fetched from another world!" I cried out “It's as 
different as if the timbers were failed in the forests of 
the Better Land " 

“Dear to goodness, girl, you bin raving," says he. 
“Husht, or the beadle'll put you in pound " 

So I hushed, and we came to the Mug of Cider , and 
after turning our beasts in among the rest, we set out 
our goods in the market 



chapter two* The Mug of Cider 


HP HE market was m the open, in a paven square by 
the church Each had his own booth, and the 
cheeses stood m mounds between There were a sight 
of old women m decent shawls and cotton bonnets sell- 
ing the same as we had, butter and eggs and poultry 
There was a stall for gingerbread and one for mince- 
pies There was a sunbonnet stall and a toy stall, and 
one for gewgaws such as strings of coral and china 
cats, shoe buckles and amulets and beaded reticules It 
was a merry scene, with the bright holly and mistletoe, 
the cheeses yellow in the sun, and the gingerbread as 
brown and sticky as chestnut buds 

The butcher stood at his door, which gave on to the 
market-place, shouting his meat, and holding up a 
long, shining knife, enough to make you think the 
French were coming There was a woman selling 
hot potatoes and pig’s fry, and a crockman who put 
up his wares to auction, and every time the clock 
chimed he broke summat, keeping some “seconds” in 
readiness, which served to amuse the people Then 
the mummers came along and gave us a treat, and in 
one corner the beast-leech was pulling teeth out for a 
penny each, and had a crowd watching What with 
them all shouting, and the mummers mouthing their 
parts, and the crash of broken china, and beasts low- 
ing and bleating from the fair ground close by, and 

Hq 



THE MUG OF CIDER 8 1 

the chimes ringing out very sweet at the half-hours* 
you may think there was a cheerful noise 

When we'd got rid of our goods, we went into the 
Mug of Cider for a snack. Ten or a dozen old me 
sat without, though the air was so nipping that they 
must have bin starved Each one was holding a great 
pewter tankard, and they were roaring out at the top 
of their voices — 

“ The Lord's my shepherd , I'll not fear ” 

Each one went his own way and made his own tune 
and I thought how angered Mister Beguildy would 
be if he could hear 'em making such an untuneful 
sound, for he was very particular over his row of 
flints, and when he struck them he was troubled if 
they didna strike the note true 

But when we were come by these old ancients, every 
one held his mug where it was, and stopped in his 
singing, and so sat with his mouth open and his eyes 
fast on me They were like those new-fangled 
mommet-shows with the little dolls that stop all to- 
gether when the showman unhands them. There they 
sat, with the inn behind them and the frosty sunshine 
on their old, red, veiny faces, and a kind of frittened 
look As we passed the bench, every head of them 
came round slow, and the score or so of eyes stared 
slantwise over the rims of their cups, as young owls 
will sta r * and turn their heads, watching you over 
their feathers. 

As we went through the dark doorway, with its 
door studded with nails like a prison, and came into 



82 


PRECIOUS SANE 


the inn parlour, where sat the more genteel, I saw 
their looks fasten on me too, but more shyly The 
farmers and their ladies and two or three folk that 
had come by the early coach and were baiting here, 
and the Squire’s son, who was a parson in Silverton 
and was on the way home for Christmas and was 
taking some refreshment because his nag had cast a 
shoe, all of them looked up, quiet and careful but 
very curious, at me All on a sudden I knew that all 
these folk, the grand ones within and the old fellows 
without, were staring at my hare-shotten lip They 
were thinking, according to their station and their 
learning — 

"Here’s a queer outlandish creature !” 

“This is a woman out of a show, sure to goodness <” 

“Here be a wench turns into a hare by night ” 

“Her’s a witch, an ugly, hare-shotten witch.” 

Maybe in the tuthree times I’d come to Lullingford 
in the past they’d stared so, but then I was but a child 
and didna see. 

I could hear the old men without croaking like a 
lot of rooks, and one said — 

“Dunna drink while she’s by It’ll p’ison yer in- 
nards.” 

Another said — • 

“Dunna look upon the baigle. Her’ll put the evil 
eye on you. You’ll dwine and dwine away ” 

The folk inside looked each at other, and I wished 
I could die For all the bitter cold and my thin gown 
and us being far from the fire, I was all m a swelter 
For indeed I loved my kind and would lief they had 
loved me. and I felt a friendliness for the drovers and 



THE MUG'OF CIDER 


83 


for the gentry, and the host and his missus For they 
were part of my outing and part of Lullmgford and 
of the world, that ever seized my heart in its hands, 
as a child will hold a small bird, which is both 
affrighted and comforted to be so held. I would lief 
have ridden forth and seen new folk, new roads, new 
hamlets, children playing on strange village greens, 
unknown to me as if they were fairies, come there I 
knew not whence nor how, singing their song and run- 
ning away into the dusk ; old folk wending their way 
along paths in meadows of which I knew not so much 
as the name of the owner, to churches deep in trees, 
with all the bells a-ringing, pulled by men I never saw 
afore. Ah, I should dearly ha’ liked that Only the 
gist of it must ever be that the old folk looked kind as 
they saw me go by, and the children smiled or threw 
me a blossom, and that when I came to inn or tavern 
they’d say, “Draw in to the fire now, dear ’eart, for 
night thickens.” Ah, Fd dearly ha’ liked that ! 

This made it all the more of a shocking thing to me 
that the real world was thus toward me, for living so 
apart I had not truly felt my grief afore. Put now 
I knew that I was fast bound in misery and iron, as 
the Book saith. Ah, prisoned beyond a door to which 
the great nailed door of the inn was but paper! 

As I was bending over my plate so that my bonnet 
met hide the tears, a lady came in. She was a hand- 
some piece if ever there was one ! She was lissom as 
a wand, dressed in a long scarlet riding coat and a 
highwayman hat to match, with a great swath of 
chestnut hair tied in a bow. She’d got black eyes with 
no human soul in them, but sparkles instead, like 



8 4 


PRECIOUS BANE 


cat’s eyes on a frosty night. Gauntlets on her little 
han ds, spurs on her boots, she came in laughing from 
a talk with the old men on the bench 

“A besom, host!” she says “We want a besom 
here ” 

Everybody smiled and sniggered a bit. I knew well 
what she meant, for once when Mother was talking 
to me she said that if folk began to speak of besoms 
I’d best go, since it was their way of saying I was a 
witch. 

But Gideon never noticed, for not being afflicted 
like me he never thought of such things, and being 
used to me he didna have it in mind that other folk 
met not be. And he was very deep in considering over 
whether Jancis or the big house and the maids and 
men were best, so it all went by him 

The lady ran to the Squire’s son and clapped him on 
shoulder, which made him frown because of his dig- 
ity, and she says — 

“So you’ve come Christmassing like a good lad! 
Who’s the woman with the hare-shotten lip?” 

He made a sign to warn her to talk soft, and nodded 
towards Gideon ever so little 

“Why, if yonder isn’t young Sara of Sam!” she 
says, flushing a bit and coming running across to 
where Gideon sat, very handsome in the blue coat with 
the brass buttons and the black band for Father on 
the arm, and his eyes darkling over the thought of 
Jancis. I nudged him, and he stood up, and looked 
11 the better for it, being such a fine figure. 

She held out her hand, for the gentry were always 
friendly to the farmers, in especial to voters about 



THE MUG OF CIDER 85 

election time, and she sparkled at him out of her blacl 
eyes and said — 

“There’s to be an election soon, and Father’s got 
some work for you, Sarn So you’d best come a n<t 
see us one day, and take bite and sup, if your sweet- 
heart can spare you.” 

She looked very spitefully at me. Seemingly shfc 
thought Gideon was an only child, and so she chose 
to take me for his acquaintance, or else she chose to 
mock him, lashing him into her slavery by making 
him look a fool. 

Now Gideon was altogether with the Squire as to 
politics, because of the corn tax, but he hadna made 
up his mind in good sadness whether he meant giving 
all those things up and settling down contented with 
Jancis and a crowd of little uns till death them parted. 
So he hummed and hawed a bit, and not being used 
to hiver-hover from a common man, she lost her tern- 
per. 

“So! Sof You’ve no time, Sarn. You’ve no time, 
I see,” she says. “You’ll be dancing on Diafoll Moun- 
tain next Thomastide no doubt Oh, fine you’ll look, 
Sarn, with your missus here, and broomsticks all 
round and the moon shining!” 

She laughed like a tinkle of jangled bells, and 
Gideon came to the knowledge of what she meant 
He was ever slow, but sure. Eh, terrible sure. 

That was one of the times I spoke of when I saw 
Gideon angered. His face had gone dark and his eyes 
had the look as if the mere was running behind them, 
cold, and bitter cold. He looked down at her so that 
she blenched, and he said very slow — 



86 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“Ma’am, this be my sister. If I’ve a mind to dance 
on the Diafoll Mountain along of witches, I ool And 
if I've a mind to dance upstairs at the ’unt Ball along 
of the gentry, I ool. But I wunna ask you for a part- 
ner And I doubt I wunna be able to vote for Squire 
neither, for can a man govern the land as canna govern 
his own womankind, but lets his girl go about like a 
ripstitch-rantipole ? He should ha’ give you more 
stick, ma’am ” 

“Dorabella I” calls her brother, very much put about 
at her being in such a brawl 

They went out, and Gideon sat down and went on 
with his victuals. Nor did he eat a bit less hearty for 
it all, though I could scarce touch a morsel So soon 
as he went off to buy the oxen, I made haste to go 
from the place. There were plenty of errands to do, 
what with malt and sugar and tea to buy, and boots 
for us all, and Tivvy’s present, and a bit of baccy for 
Gideon, for he never bought any himself, since, if he 
was near with others, he was near with himself also. 
When I’d finished, and bought a tuthree extras for 
Christmas, and packed all into the panniers, Gideon 
was ready to go and see the house He was pleased 
with the cattle. Brindled longhorns they were, and 
very strong With so few people using oxen for farm 
work thej were cheaper, a power, than they used to 
be So he was cheerful, since neither then nor at any 
other time did he seem cast down by my sorrow. 
How could he know, indeed, that my heart was bleed- 
ing because of Miss Dorabella and the old men on the 
bench? He was angered because he thought it dis- 
grace to himself that a hare-shotten lip should be cast 



THE MUG OF CIDER 8? 

up against one of his family, and a scent of witchcraft 
into the bargain. But for me he took no thought, any 
more than if I was one of the new-bought oxen that 
somebody prodded in passing by. He whistled under 
breath as we went along the by-road that led to the 
house he'd set his mind on. I’d never been along that 
way, for It lay outside the town on the other road 
from ours, and when we did come in we hadna much 
time for gadding about. We soon left the coach road 
and were in a lane with deep frozen ruts in it, and 
high hedges white-over with rime. 

The evening was closing in a bit, but Gideon said 
never mind, we'd manage the beasts all right, for it 
ud be light as day when the moon rose. He was very 
wrought-up about the house, I could see, so I agreed 
to all he said, for I never liked to dampen down any- 
body’s pleasure. Lord knows there's little enow in 
the world, and Gideon was ever one that took life 
hard. So when it turned out that he'd planned to 
treat me to a dish of tea after, at the Mug of Cider , 
and have a chat about all we meant to do, seeing we 
couldna when Mother was by, I said nought agen it, 
though I thought I'd liefer have gone into Hell’s 
mouth than face it But Gideon wanted to talk while 
the holiday feeling was on him, afore the dumbness of 
Sarn got the better of him agen. For it was a most 
peculiar thing how you couldna speak your heart out 
t Sarn, and I never knew whether it was the big trees 
brooding, or the heavy rheumaticky feeling ^f being 
so close to the water, or the old ancient house full of 
the remembrances of old ancient people, or that there 
was summat foreboded. So Gideon kept his droughts 



88 


PRECIOUS BANE 


and turned them over and over in his mind like a 
snowball, till at last the snowball was too much for six 
strong men to shift, and nigh big enough to bury any- 
body. 

We went through a gate into an avenue like a car- 
riage drive. At the end there was another gate, with 
balls on posts, very grand. Within was a carnage 
sweep and flower knots, trimly kept. 

We stood there, looking through the wrought-iron 
gates at the place that Gideon said was to be ours It 
was new, built since Queen Anne died, and it was a 
despert big house, very solid, with four windows each 
side the door, and over the door a porch of stone 
Above the eight windows were eight more, and over 
them dormer windows that Gideon said would be the 
windows of the men-servants and the maid-servants 
There were steps up to the door, and a stone 
mounting-block with steps also, and a walled garden 
at one side, and a round pigeon cote. 

No light showed, and the place had a melancholy 
look, so still it was, so dark, in its dark still trees. 

“I’d lief there was a light,” I said 

“Dear to goodness, a light? It wunna be dark this 
hour, to call dark. What do they want with a light? 
The housekeeper can spin by firelight, I hope, and an 
old chap can sit in the chimney corner and set his mind 
on a better world without wasting tallow, let alone 
wax !” 

Gideon had taken over the management already, 
seemingly, and I was bound to laugh. 

You seem pretty anxious the poor gentleman 
should set his mind on a better world,” I says. 



THE MUG OF CIDER 


89 


“Why, so I am, but not too soon. It ud never do 
for the old chap to go out all of a lantun-puff afore 
we’ve got the money together. Say in about ten year.” 

“So he’s to order his coffin in ten years’ time, poor 
gentleman.” 

“You be very sharp to-day, Prue,” says he. “But 
he’s bound to go some day, no danger. We mun bide 
our time.” 

“He’s Miss Dorabella’s great-uncle, inna he?” 

“Ah ” 

“Wunna they want it for young Mister Camper- 
dine?” 

“Laws, no 1 He’s after a bishop’s palace.” 

“Nor yet his cousin?” 

“Dear no! He’ll never bide long in a place, that 
Jad wunna A rolling stone, he be, and a caution. 
No, it’ll be put up to auction when the old man goes, 
and you and me must mind to get the money ready.” 

“Why, look ye, a light!” I says. 

“Where?” 

“Why there, in that lower window on the garde 
side” 

I saw it as well as could be, a large pale light wan v 
dering from window to window downstairs and then 
sliding up, in a long window that seemed to go dow 
the stairs, and beginning over again in the upper story. 
One window would shine for a minute and then go 
black, and another shine. It had a very strange, un- 
contented look, wandering like that There’s nothing 
so contented as a steadfast light, but a flickering light 
going to and agen in a void is a sad thing to see It 
went on like that a long time, and the cold strength- 



90 


PRECIOUS BANE 


ened. There was no sound at all We stood there 
like beggars outside the gate, and the unquiet light 
wandered m the dark. All of a sudden it went out 

“Oh, it’s gone out*” I says. “Oh, deary, deary 
me »’” 

“What of that?” says Gideon. 

“I wanted it to steady and come to rest in a window, 
and shine out with a heartening glow,” I said “But 
now it's gone out.” 

It distressed me mightily that it should go out, so 
that I wrung my cold hands together, though why it 
should hurt me thus I couldna say. 

“It was but the housekeeper looking for her knit- 
ting-needles or old Camperdme seeking his snuff-box 
And now they’ve found it, they’ve douted the light. 
Very sensible too.” 

“No!” I said “No* It was love, lad, wanting to 
steady and shine But the house was too much for 
it The dark’s closed in now. The light’s douted ” 

And I began to cry, which was a foolish thing to do. 
But Gideon wasna so angered as he met have been, 
for he was in a good temper about the oxen and the 
house. “You’re sickening for summat,” he said, “for 
you be no cry-baby, Prue. Come on to your tea, now, 
while I tell you all that’s in my mind I’ve a deal to 
say, for that little vixen of Camperdine’s has changed 
my mind for me, so I must tell you the new plans as 
well as the old.” 

We turned away from the shut gate, as dumb as 
stones, and we left all the twenty-four windows with 
no light in them, and the dark trees with no breath of 
air m them, lying there in the vast of night. 



chapter three: “Or Die in ’ tempting It 

I T wasna near so bad as I’d feared at the mn, for the 
old men were gone with their droves, and the Cam- 
perdines were by this at their dinner. It is often so, if 
you are in heavy dread of summat and yet brave it, 
and behold f it is nought The landlord and his missus, 
thinking little of us, sent the maid-servant to wait on 
us — a frightened, simple creature, like Miller’s Polly, 
and nothing to be feared of We had the parlour to 
ourselves, for folk go home early from Lullingford 
market in the winter, seeing what the roads are, even 
to this day I was glad of the red fire and the steam- 
ing tea, after the sadness of that house with its dead 
light 

Gideon began to talk after a while, very slow, and 
as if the words cost gold 

“Now, Prue, I’ve gotten a deal to say, and if we 
dunna want to be benighted, I’d best start You know 
as me and Jancis have taken up together in good sad- 
ness 
“Ah ” 

“I didna think to care about any wench like I do 
about that girl, Prue. Catches at a chap’s vitals, she 
do I never meant to go furder than a bit of fun. I 
didna reckon to marry, nor yet I didna mean lawless 
love I meant fair by Jancis, and so long as we had 
our Sunday evenings it was all right When there’s 

i 



9 2 


PRECIOUS BANE 


no gainsaying there's no burning in the blood Gain- 
say, and the blood's on fire Afore old Beguildy 
found us out we were contented enow and as mnicent 
s two pinks on a stem " 

“And still be that last," I says 
“Ah " 

He looked strangely on me for a while, and said— 
“You've got the second sight, seemingly, oui Prue " 
“No. Only a bit of sense " 

“Well, now as the old man's given me the go-by, I 
do hunger and thirst after Jancis pretty near as much 
as I do after the place yonder, and the money and all 
as goes with it " 

“Not more?” 

“Laws, no ! ” 

“Then you dunna love Jancis in good sadness, 
Gideon You do but lust after the girl in carnality ” 
“Dear to goodness f It met be Parson preaching. 
That's what the book-learning does to a woman ” 

He laughed a bit, awkward like, and began stuffing 
baccy into his pipe. But I knew that if I'd got any 
wisdom it was never book-learning as gave it to me, 
but just the quietness of the attic 

“Well, big words or not, it's no matter,” he said 
“I want the wench I want her so bad that I'd very 
near set my heart to give up all and bring her to Sarn 
and order one of them rush cradles off Missis Be- 
guildy So then, to conquer the longing, I planned to 
bring you to see the place, and talk about it, and 
maybe begin to buy some bits of things agen we 
furnish ” 

“To harden your heart the more.” 



rf OR DIE IN 'TEMPtlNG IT 93 

“Ah And I planned to get some education of? you 
after a while, and gather power to me at election 
times, and be so well thought of that I could even put 
my heart on a squire’s girl ’” 

“Miss Dorabella !” 

“No less. What be she, after all, but a woman ? 
She hanna got more to give than any other woman, 
and what would any man, even the Lord of the Manor, 
do more for a girl than get her with child?” 

“Husht ! They’ll hear in the kitchen and be angered 
at such wild talk ” 

“True talk ” 

“Maybe true. But nobody’d like it the better for 
that ” 

“Ever since she threw me that first saucy look I’ve 
had it m mind. She angered me and pleased me both 
So I thought if so be I could bring myself to give up 
Jancis — for either I mun give up Jancis or I mun give 
up all thought of the other — then Jancis met have 
taken up with Sexton’s Sammy.” 

“It would nigh kill the girl, Gideon, and Sammy’s 
no woman’s man, and he’s pretty well crazed with 
learning texts, into the bargain.” 

“Oh, he’d take her if I’d let un. She stirs him to 
anger with her flighty ways and being a wizard’s 
wench and all. I see a look in Sammy’s face time and 
agen Wed with her and tame her, that’s what 
Sammy ud do.” 

“But that would be a cruel thing, Gideon ” 

“Well, I’d a mind for it when we set out for market 
I thought to throw Jancis at the fellow’s yeard like I 
throw a crust to Towser, for it mun be one thing or 



94 


PRECIOUS BANE 


other And she’d have been contented enough when 
the children came. Though, Lord help ’em, they’d ha’ 
had Sammy’s scowl and bin bom with their mouths 
full of texes But she’d have seen nought wrong with 
’em. Anyway, that’s what I’d settled in my own 
mind ” 

“Dear to goodness, what a God Almighty !” I says, 
mocking a bit, though I knew he could ha’ done it if 
he’d a mind. He was ever a strong man, which is 
almost the same, times, as to say, a man with little 
time for kindness. For if you stop to be kind, you 
must swerve often from your path. So when folk tell 
me of this great man and that great man, I think to 
myself, Who was stinted of joy for his glory? How 
many old folk and children did his coach wheels go 
over? What bridal lacked his song, and what 
mourner his tears, that he found time to climb so high ? 

“But now,” said Gideon, “my mind’s set, and I 
shanna change agen I wunna give up either Jancis 
or the place at Lullingford here ; I’ll have both And 
I’ll lead J ancis out m a gown as would stand of itself, 
with her bosom bare as a lady’s, at the ’unt Ball, in 
front of Miss Dorabella. Not only that neither. But 
when you and Jancis be at the grand place, and the 
gentry calling in their carriages ” 

“And Mother! You’ve missed out Mother.” 

“And me a man of standing, more looked up to tha 
Squire, and not yet old, nor near it, then ” 

He was quiet a long while, thinking 
“Well, Gideon,” I says, “what then?” 

“Why then, if Dorabella Camperdine comes across 
my path with them black eyes nd that fed smile, let 



"OR DIE IN' 'TE PTXNGIT" 95 

her look to herself. Ill take her Out of wedlock, 1 
ool, for what she said to you and me to-day And 
when the poor wizard’s wench is my lawful missus, 
111 make Squire’s girl a w’ore ” 

With that word he banged down his fist on the table 
so that the tankard of ale rolled on the floor 

“If you be so set in your ways,” I says, “there’ll 
be more than a flagon of ale spilled, my dear ” 

“You talk like an old ancient woman, Prue I be as S 
was made. None can go widdershms to that” 

I can hear Gideon say that now, gruff and short and 
with a kind of broken-hearted sound. It was as if 
he’d give all to be as he could never be ; as if his sou! 
in that hour, away from Sarn and all its ancient 
power, wrostled mightily to be free of itself Maybe 
you’ve seen a dragon-fly coming out of its case? It 
does so wrostle, it does so wrench, you’d think its life 
ud go from it I’ve seen ’em turn somersets like a 
mountebank in their agony. For get free they mun, 
and it cosses ’em a pain like the birth pain, very pitiful 
to see. But in our Gideon it was worse to watch. 
There he sat, by the comfortable fire, with the spilled 
beer gleaming on the quarries like dark blood, and 
he said no word for above an hour. I know it was 
that, for when he went into his trance I heard the 
missus of the inn call to the maid-servant to turn the 
spit and hasten on the meat, for supper must be served 
in an hour. Then all was still, and I sat with folded 
hands, seeing Gideon’s dark face there opposite when 
the fire blazed up I sat as mum as a winter black- 
bird It seemed to me that the mighty hand was upon 
him, striving with him to make him go widdershms 



96 


PRECIOUS BANE 


to what he was, to what Father had made him, and 
Grandad, and all of them, back to Timothy, that had 
the lightning in his blood I could see in mind Lull- 
mgford New House, and the light wandering, as if 
it wanted to steady and shine. I wished it might be 
well with Gideon, and that he met take Jancis, not for 
vengeance but for love, and because she was the candle 
of his eye, and his dear acquaintance, and not for lust. 
And I wished he might take thought for Mother, and 
even for me, that I be not like his dog or his bought 
slave 

After a long lapse of time I heard a voice outside 
hay, “Is all finished ?” And another voice answered, 
“Ah, albs done ” It had a solemn sound, though I 
knew it was only the dinner they meant 
Gideon stirred and muttered to himself 
“Or die in ’tempting it,” he said 
So I knew we were all set out on a dark road, 
Gideon and Mother and me, and now Jancis 
We went out and saddled the nags, and set forth 
for home through a world as stiff as a rock, driving 
the oxen afore us The dumbness had come back 
upon Gideon. The outing was over. The road 
puddles were gone beyond crackling-stiff, and were 
iron And the hedges were even as the wrought-iron 
gates of Lullmgford New House It was the middle 
of the night when we came past Sarn Mere, and saw 
the ice a deal further out, and the lily leaves frozen 
under 

“Well, it’s bin a very costly day,” says Gideon, “and 
J m m behopes you’ve enjoyed yourself ” 

I knew it hurt the lad sore to spend. It was a crust 



' ' 0 R DIE IN 'TEMPTING IT" 


97 


in pocket and a sup of water mostly on market days. 
So I put the old men and Miss Dorabella out of mind, 
and only said — 

“Ah, it was grand, and thank you kindly, lad ” 
“And you’ll agree to all?” 

“Ah, didna I vow it?” 

“But that was afore Jancis” 

“I agree to Jancis. But it ud be all one if I didna ” 
“Not if you wouldna work ” 

“Oh, I'll work. I never was afeard of work.” 

All of a sudden a sweet scattered whistling came 
falling from the dim moony sky 

“Hark!” he says “The Seven Whistlers!” 

But I said I thought it was only some magpie* 
widgeon we’d disturbed at the end of the mere, being 
mortally afeard to think of those other ghostly birds. 

“No,” he says. “No. It be the Seven Whistlers, 
sure enough It bodes no good.” 

This was a strange thing for Gideon to say, for he 
mostly laughed at signs and bodmgs, and I could not 
but think of it, up in the attic after. 

Mother and Tivvy were sitting up for us, and 
seemingly Mother had seen us in the tea leaves, 
drownded m Sarn. She’d scarce believe in us for a 
long while, but cried and wrung her hands and said, 
“They binna real It’s only the know of them.” So 
I was bound to give her one of my Christmas presents 
to comfort her She was ever a child in heart, was 
poor Mother She was so simple and trustful that I 
always thought it would be as wicked to hurt her as 
to hurt a babe in swaddling clothes, or a poor moth 
flittering* m the dusk. Ah, an evil thing, a devil’s trick, 



PRECIOUS BANE 


98 

to betray such a trusting heart, such trembling, pray- 
ing little hands ! 

“I be to lie in your chamber, Prue,” says Tivvy. 
“I be glad, for it’s cold lying alone in black frost 
weather/' 

She looked slanting at Gideon, and I could see she 
was nearly wild with jealousy of Jancis. And indeed 
Gideon did look a proper fine man, with his face all 
frosty red and his eyes lit up with the day's doings. 
He'd but to nod, and Tivvy ud follow. But he was 
never one to chop and change, and his mind was made 
up, so I knew it was Jancis or none I didna want 
Tivvy in my bed, she did so snore and snoffie in her 
slumber So I waited till she was fast, and then I 
took the lan thorn and Father’s old sheepskin coat that 
lapped me up feet and all, and I went to the attic and 
wrote in my book. It was always my custom, if 
things grieved me or gladdened me, to write them 
down m full Also I had much need of the peace that 
was in the attic, after such a bitter dose of the world 
beyond Sarn. Because I had no lover, I would lief 
have been the world's lover — such world, that is, as 
I could reach. I was like a maid standing at the meet- 
ing of the lane-ends on May Day with a posy-knot as 
a favour for a rider that should come by. And be- 
hold * The horseman rode straight over me, and left 
tne, posy and all, in the mire. 



£ apter four: The Wizard of Plash 


HRISTMAS went by us and nought stirred the 
quiet, unless you count killing the pig Nobody 
came Christmassmg, for there was nowhere for them 
to come from, and nothing for them to come for. 
Mother was very middling with a cough, and took to 
her bed, so I didna go for a lesson till the New Year. 
But on New Year's Day I went, and, as I ever liked 
to pay first, I took the oxen straight away to the field 
I was ploughing for Beguildy. He couldna abide 
ploughing, so for every lesson I did so many furrows. 
I could plough nearly as well as most men, though not 
so well as Gideon He drove the straightest furrow 
I ever saw. It was impossible to him to do anything 
ill. What he did, whether it was to be seen or not, 
whether it was done once m a way or every day, must 
be done as if his life was on it. He’d have no make- 
shifts. He’d thatch the ricks, even though they were 
to be cut into straight away, as well as if he was 
working for the thatchers* medal Working by his 
lonesome in the fields, hedging or binding sheaves, 
with only the tall clouds for watchers, and the woods* 
floating on the summer mist, he’d still labour like a 
man showing his mettle at a hiring fair Times, I 
thought it was pitiful, the way he’d give himself no 
rest And times I could almost see the crowd of folk, 
the farmers watching, the judge sitting in his waggon 
or trotting to and agen on his cob. I could almost 

99 



IOO 


PRECIOUS BANE 


hear the muttering of the folks, the jeering when 
Gideon bungled, the roar of cheering when he did 
well, and the judge saying in his loud voice, “I give 
the prize to Gideon Sarn, best man in the hedging, the 
binding, and the ploughing ” 

Then I'd come to myself and see only the tall 
clouds, that hadna stirred, the tall hedges with 
meadowsweet below, the woods and the hills and the 
sweet blue air with larks hanging in it as if them above 
had let them down on threads, and shaking so with 
their joyful song that they threatened to break their 
threads Not a bit did they care who won the prize, 
nor which of them sang best or loudest, so long as 
all sang, so long as none lacked nest or cropful, drink 
of dew and space to sing m 

These things I thought while I was ploughing the 
five-acre field at Plash with the white oxen, that 
looked yellow in the deathly white of the hoar-frost 
which lay over the earth like a shroud, though not toe 
hard for ploughing. 

As the share went onwards, the reddish, turned 
earth shone richly, and the rooks followed, for they 
were sore clemmed, poor things, walking stately in 
the furrows 

In a while Jancis came running across from the 
house with her mother, all agog to tell me of the hand- 
fasting of her and Gideon and of how angered Be- 
guildy was. Jancis did truly look as lovely as a fairy, 
with her rosy face and yellow curls Missis Beguildy 
came panting after, apron flying, and loaded with 
news, like one of the French frigates folk tell of. 

“But we wunna starve here like crows*” she said 



THE WIZARD OF PLASH 101 

‘‘Come you in and have a sup of tea. Sarn brought 
me a pound canister, no less!” 

I knew he must be very deep in love to bring more 
than a quarter, but I said nought, only finished my 
furrow and unspanned the cattle. 

“Y/e can have a nice chat, for Dad's busy in his 
room, ci ring Miller's Polly,” says Jancis 

“What’s to do with Polly?” 

“It’s what inna to do with the child,” says Missis 
Beguildy 

“First she got the chin-cough and now she’s got the 
ringworm. She’s always got summat. He’s put her 
in a chair with a string of roasted onions round her 
neck, and I’m sure I cried quarts getting ’em ready. 
Dunna you ever be wife to a wizard, Prue It’s like 
what it says in the good book, and I wish I could go 
to church Christian and hear it, it be like it says, ‘I 
die daily 9 Ah, it’s like that, being wife to a wizard. 
If it inna onions it’s summat else. I’m sure I near 
broke my neck fetching bletch from the church bells 
for this very child, to cure the chick-pox, the maister 
being a deal too bone-idle to fetch it himself.” 

“Never you mind, Mother, when I’m married F 
look after you,” says Jancis 

I couldna but sigh to think what a many plans they 
were all making, and each plan cutting the throats of 
the others. I put the oxen in the shippen and came in. 
There was a good fire and a pleasant scent of tea, and 
I was bound to feel a bit glad that Polly was such a 
measly child, though it was unkind, for I knew 
Beguildy ud be a long while curing her Mother 
always said the mill children were measly because the 



102 


CIOUS BAN 


water-fairy in the pool under the mill-race put her eye 
on their mother afore they were born, but Gideon said 
it was because they were fed on the flour the rats got 
into, and Missis Beguildy said it was because they 
sent ’em to Beguildy to be cured. 

“A dose of brimstone and treacle, that be what a he 
wants, and some good food But the mill’s no place 
for good bread, no more than the farm’s a place for 
good butter, seeing it means cash, and the home folk 
get the leavings.” 

Just then Beguildy popped his head in, and looking 
dreamily at his missus said — 

“I want some May butter ” 

“May butter! You met as well ask for gold How 
dun you think I’ve got any May butter, nor June nor 
July butter neither, when we sell every morsel of but- 
ter we make almost afore it be out of the chum, and 
never taste nought but lard?” 

“I’m bound to have May butter or the charm wunna 
work,” says Beguildy in his husky voice 

“What be it for?” 

“To fry the mid bark of the elder and cure the 
chin-cough ” 

“Well, for all the butter, May or December, as she’ll 
get in our place, she may die of the chin-cough!” 
shouts Missis Beguildy. And with that, a loud roar- 
ing came from the inner chamber, because poor Polly 
thought she was at death’s door 

“Go and read, in your old books, and find summat 
easier, says Missis Beguildy “I’ve summat better 
to think of than charms.” 

“You be above yerself, woman. You think to see 



THE WIZARD OF PLASH 


103 


our Jancis wedded and bedded and rounding to a 
grandchild all in a lantun-puff. But I tell ye not 
every troth ends m church, not every ring holds wed- 
lock, not every bridegroom takes his vargin, and I 
dunna like the match f Qwd Sarn still begruiches me 
that crown, though he be where crowns buy nought 
And I tell you young Sarn was born under the three- 
penny planet and 'll never keep money. Sleeps on his 
face, too. And them as does that drowns. My gel’s 
not for Sam. You may ride rough-shod over my wish 
and will You may send out bidding letters for a 
love-spinning, which is all to the good. But still I’ll 
bide for a higher bidder Why, she be as white as a 
lady and as sound as a well-grown tater! No squire 
nor lord even but ud take it kind to be asked to lie 
beside her ” 

“But not to wed with her ” 

“What of it? He’d pay, wouldna he ? ” 

By this, Jancis was roaring-crying as well as Polly. 
Beguildy popped into his room again, and we set to 
work to comfort her. We drew close m to the fire 
with our tea and planned for me to write the bidding 
letters for the love-spinning. 

“And a caking into the bargain,” says Missis 
Beguildy. “You make money by a caking And 
weaver shall come and stop a tuthree days and make 
up all we’ve spun.” 

Jancis clapped her hands 

“Oh ! I dearly love a Do J” she said. 

“Ah, so do I ” 

“But a caking be the best of all. Oh, I love Gideo 
dearlv for asking me to wed 



104 


PRECIOUS BANE 


All the while as we talked we could hear poor Poll), 
coughing and whooping sore, and Beguildy shouting 
— “Quiet now, hush yer noise, I say! Curse ye! 
Ye’re cured!” 

Then Missis Beguildy asked me to write down the 
biddings for them to see. So I did, and they were 
mighty pleased, for all they couldna read what I’d 
written any more than two butterflies in the hedge 
can read the mile stone. 

“Put down,” says Missis Beguildy, “as Jancis, only 
daughter of Mister Felix Beguildy and Hepzibah his 
wife, is promised and trothed to Mister Gideon Sarn, 
farmer, living on his own land at Sarn. And put 
down as they’ll be wed as soon as may be, and that 
Jancis invites ’em to a love-spinning ” 

“And put down,” says Beguildy, popping his head 
in again, “that you’re a parcel of fools, and that this 
marriage shall not be till Sarn Mere goeth into the 
earth whence it came. For I’ve seen in a glass darkly 
a young squire that rides this way with his pockets 
full of gold.” 

When Polly was gone, coughing as bad as ever, and 
I went into the other room for my lesson, I gave 
Jancis a little pat on shoulder, for I was sorry for the 
child She looked more than ever like a petal of the 

ay on a day of cold rain. 

“Well, well now,” says Beguildy, “I make no doubt 
you’ve ploughed a tidy bit?” 

“Ah” 

“Well, whatll I learn ye?” 

“Learn me to write ' Marriages be ade in heaven / 



THE WIZARD OF PLASH IO5 

Mister, and ' Whom God hath joined together let no\ 
man put asunder / " 

He chuckled a bit. 

“Clever wench 1 Clever wench! But you'll not get 
the better of me Rather shall you write, 'Inter- 
meddle not with high matters ! Dunna a wizard, as 
knows the fortunes of a parish, know what be best for 
his ow T n?" 

“Leave be, Mister ! There's enough agen the poor 
child, what with Fate and such a pigheaded man as 
Gideon If you meddle, maybe you’ll do harm as you 
canna mend." 

“Namore, namore! I’ve said me say Dunna 
weary me." 

He beat lightly on his little music, which was a 
sign that his patience was over As the notes tinkled 
out, I knew it was useless to argle any more For as 
there was no power or sweetness in his flinty music, 
such as there is from harp and fiddle, so there was 
none m his soul It gave a small and flinty music 
because it was a small and flinty thing. He'd got no 
pity because he'd got no strength. For it inna weak- 
lings and women that pity best, but the strong, mas- 
tering men. They may put it from them as my 
brother Sam did But even so it will come upon them 
some day, and the longer they deny it the stronger it 
will be when it comes Ah 1 It met even be such an 
agony as will make a man hate his life. 



chapter five: The Love-Spinning 


I T took a long while to get ready for the Do, it being 
a caking as well A good few of the religious sort 
held that cakmgs were wickedness, being in the nature 
of gambling But for us women, leading such lost- 
and-forgotten lives, they were a bit of enjoyment, and 
even Sexton’s wife said she’d come and bring Tivvy. 
She got Missis Beguildy to fix it on a day when Sex- 
ton was going with Parson to a place a long way off 
to look into the case of a woman taken in adultery. 
She knew Sexton ud stay till the bitter end, and 
wouldna be raught back till the small hours And 
even if he found out, he’d be so contented at the pun- 
ishing of a sinner that maybe he’d not be more than 
grumbling-angry. 

The name caking was given because we played 
cards for cakes. To tell the sober truth, it was real 
gambling The woman who gave the Do made a big 
batch of cakes, saffron or rich sponge, and sold them 
to the guests at a penny each Cakes were what we 
played for, and the losers were bound to buy more, 
whereas a good player could go away with a big 
basketful, or she could sell them to the losers at two- 
pence each. 

Mother was not to hold or to bind, but she must 
come. Gideon promised to look after our jobs for 
the day, so we set out early We were to make a day 



THE LOVE-SPINNING IO? 

of it, spinning all the forenoon and then, after the 
noon-spell, settling down to cards. 

It was a fine fresh morning with a damp wind full 
of the scent of our ricks. There's no scent like it for 
bringing summer in winter. When I smell it now I 
see the long gleamy waves of grass like green silk, and 
the big red clover bobs, and corncrakes running low in 
the thick grass, dark with dew 

But at that time the first thing it put me in mind of 
was how hard-got it was, how we'd sweated and 
laboured by moonlight, and got up agen afore we’d 
had time for a dream, to sweat and labour once more. 
Still, it smelled pleasant, and so did Gideon's bonfire 
of old hedge-brushings, and the deep floor of leaves in 
the wood, and the pine-trees where there were always 
canbottlins cheeping and playing. 

Mother looked well in her big poke bonnet and 
frilled tippet, like a bright bird with her quick brown 
eyes and red cheeks. We only took the little spinning- 
wheels, seeing we were to spin flax and hemp and not 
wool, so I could carry them easy. The mere was a 
bit cruddled with ice at the north side still, but you 
could tell that spring was afoot though it was but 
February, by the mating-games of the water-ousels 
and the nesting caw of our rooks. There were green 
tongues on the woodwind sprays too, so bright, they 
minded me of the tongues of flame that came down 
from heaven. In that dead time, coming so quick and 
fresh, they always seemed more to me than all the 
honeysuckle blossoms of the summer. 

When we came through the oakwood Mothef 
smoothed her mittens very complaisant and said — 



PRECIOUS BANE 


*108 


“I bmna tending swine this day. I be a lady ” 

“Indeed to goodness you be,” I said For I did 
dearly like her to enjoy herself I said I made no 
doubt she’d win enough of cakes to keep us all for a 
week of nine days. 

‘Will Jancis be a good daughter to me, think you, 
my dear?” 

“I make no doubt of it, Mother,” I said. 

“Will she leave me my own place by the fire and 
speak kind?” 

“Ah, she ool, I know. But you needna fret, for 
it’ll be many a long day afore those two are shouted 
in church.” 

“I’d lief not. I’d lief be a granny, Prue. Will the 
babe favour Gideon or her, dun you think?” 

I said, not having the second sight I couldna tell, 
but I thought it ud be the very spit-and-image of its 
dad. 

“Maybe, maybe. It ud be better, a power, that it 
should favour us than the Beguildys. It’s bad for a 
babe to have a preached-against grandad.” 

“Oh, there’s not much harm in Beguildy, nor yet 
good,” I said. “He be just a pleasant painted show 
like a blown egg ” 

“I be glad he’ll be away to-day ” 

Missis Beguildy had sent a message by Gideon to 
her cousin at Lullmgford to tell her to send for Be 
guildy on that day to come and cure her man’s tooth- 
ache. For seemingly he’d had one taken out by the 
beast-leech, and he parted so hard with it that the 
beast-leech, being a terrible man when his blood’s up 
loosened all the others lugging it out So he got the 



THE LOVE-SPINNING IO9 

toothache shouting-bad, and it was a good amusement 
for Beguildy to go and cure it. He was always very 
proud of that charm beginning — 

“Peter sat a-weeping on a marble stone” 

and he’ll go on saying it over and over till the person 
cries for mercy. Then he claps on a bagful of salt, fire- 
hot, and whether it’s the salt or the charm, the person 
most always says he’s cured 

“They’ll keep him late, not to spoil our sport,” says 
Mother, clapping her hands softly like a child 

We came out into the open fields, and I thought no 
day had ever looked so fair, yet knew not why. The 
hills Lulhngford way were blue as a summer sky, a 
deep promising blue, and there was a richness on the 
world, so it looked what our Parson used to call sump- 
tuous. There were the red ploughlands and the old 
yellow stubble in the sun, and Plash Pool, glassy blue,, 
and the mill roof in the valley, red. All the grassland 
was clear green like the green in church windows, ct 
like the green hill far away where no herb grows but 
the Calvery clover. Even a summer day can seldom 
match such a day as that, when the snow is but just 
gone and the waters freed, and when there is a clear 
shining above and below. You could tell there war 
summat out of the common at the Stone House, bl 
the great blaze of firelight in the window. Jancia 
came running to the door and made her obedience to 
Mother very prettily. We were the first, saving for 
Miller’s Polly ;tfid her mother. They were always 
first everywhere, for they said an hour from home 



IXO 


P EC 10 U 


A N 


was an hour in heaven. They wouldna explain more, 
only if you drove them hard and asked them for why, 
was it the Mill-’us or the water or what? Then they’d 
say, “The Miller.” And if you said why, what ailed 
the man? they’d say, “Was he ever known to smile, 
leave alone laugh ?” And indeed he never was. He’d 
got a lattance in the speech as well, and what with the 
two things he was very disheartening to live with. 
There was a foolish tale that he’d had a bogy out of 
the water for sweetheart, and that when he got mar- 
ried she put silence on him for a curse. 

Missis Miller was a poor creature, like a mealworm, 
but very pleasant-spoken. Sexton’s missus was just 
the opposite. She always made me think of a new- 
painted coach, big and wide, with an open road, and 
the horn blowing loud and cheerful, and full speed 
ahead. She was as gay in her dress as a seven- 
coloured linnet, and if she could wear another shawl 
or flounce or brooch, she would. She wore so many 
petticoats it was a wonder she could walk, and once 
Tiwy said to me that to watch her mother undress 
was like peeling a big onion down to the core. Tivvy 
Wasna one ever to make a joke, so it shows what a 
great thing it must ha’ been to watch. I was used to 
think myself, seeing her and Sexton together, that 
she was like a big hank of dyed wool, and he was the 
thin black distaff it was to be wound oft on to. When 
she and Tivvy were come, we were eight, and our 
wheels made a pleasant humming in the warm room 
the while we talked. The ox-driver’s wife from Plash 
Farm came next, with two tall girls, very quiet and 
meek for all their size. Folk said their father tied 



THE LOVE-SPINNING 


III 


them to the ox-trevis every Saturday night and beat 
them to keep them in mind of their manners. They’d 
always stand up if their mother spoke to them, and 
bend their long necks like meek swans The twelfth 
was the shepherd’s wife from the moors beyond 
Plash. She was a strange creature, but fair to look 
upon, enough to make a man’s mouth water. She’d 
got sloping shoulders and long hips, and her hair was 
like a blackbird’s wings. Her eyes were clear green 
and her face was flushed like a ripe peach, and she’d 
smile in secret to herself like a fairy. It was said, but 
whether with any truth I know not, that the shepherd 
paid no money for the moors, ihat belonged to a 
tavern-keeper m Silverton, but that every midsummer 
Felena, which was his wife, went up to the rocks at 
the hilltop and spent the night with the tavern-keeper. 
There were wilder tales too, about her being see 
dancing by moonlight m a ring of cattle and sheep 
mother-naked, and how a shaggy creature with ram’s 
horns, that could only have been Satan, came and 
danced along with her, mopping and mowing, while 
the ring of beasts made a low moaning. But to me 
she seemed a pleasant, harmless creature, and very 
handy in all she did. 

I could see that the ox-herd’s wife didna care for 
her girls to be spinning with Felena. She was so 
respectable and highminded that she never spoke of 
anything between banns-up and baptism if she could 
help it, and took no notice of young couples during 
that time. She said nought to Felena, and it was 
Mother, ever kindly, who said — 

“You spin like a fairy, Missis Felena” 



£12 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“There’s nought else to do in the mountain/’ said 
Felena in a low, singing voice, “but spin and spin, 
and spin, morning, noon and night ” 

“Save on Midsummer night, my girl/’ raps out 
Missis Sexton, “and then I’m told you’ve enough to 
do and plenty !” 

Felena turned scarlet and hung her head, and sud- 
denly Moll and Sukey burst out, as if they’d wanted 
to say it for years and years- 

“Oh, Missis Felena, is it true as you lie with the 
tavern-keeper and dance on the heath mother-naked?” 

Never did I see any woman so angered as their 
mother was. “Sukey and Moll 1” she says 

“Honoured ma’am?” says they, all of a twitter. 
“Out with yer hands !” says she. 

And stooping down she took off her sandal shoe, 
which she wore because it was a party, and slippered 
’em both on the hands right soundly, till they roared 
agen. 

I heard after that one married a farmer and the 
other a retired coachman, and both did well: it wasna 
for lack of correction if they did ill 
They went on with their spinning, meek as mice, 
snoffling over their wheels Missis Beguildy was 
very put-about, for it seemed like being a melancholy 
party. So I asked Jancis to sing Green Gravel to 
liven us up We all joined in, even Polly, whooping 
the while. Felena sang in a cool-sounding voice, and 
Sexton’s missus sang very loud, and Mother quaver- 
ing, and Missis Miller like a bird new come from the 
cage 

So what with the singing and the whirring, the 



THE LOVE-SPINNING 113 

kitchen was like a tree full of starlings. It was gek 
ting on for time to stop spinning when Mother said 
should we sing — 

“The Lord's my Shepherd ” 

nd afterwards I spoke for having — 

“He brought me to His Lordly House , 

His Banner it was Love ” 

And just as we were singing that, and the wheels 
going like churn-owls, there was a quick footfall with- 
out, and a rush of fresh air, and a long ray of sun- 
shine from the door to me, and he stood there in the 
light looking upon us 

“He,” I say, as if you’d know him out of the world 
as I did 

He stood in the doorway, and I rose up from my 
seat in the shadows at the back of the room, as if ’ e 
was my own bidden guest. 



chapter six: The Game of Costly Colours 


[TOW did he look? What like was he ? Was he 
well-favoured ? It be hard to say There are 
no looks m love, no outward seeming, no telling over 
of features When you are but a moth in the candle 
of his eye, can you tell his stature, or if he be dark 
or fair? Did Magdalene, that was like Felena, know, 
when she lay at the feet of the only man she ever 
loved yet never loved, whether the carpenter’s Son 
featured His mother or not, whether He was big or 
little in stature? Shall we know, when we be come 
into His presence that made us, what outward seem- 
ing His majesty has? No. Only our hearts will 
tremble in the light I could never tell you how he 
looked as he stood there , but I can tell you how the 
women looked that glassed him 

Tiwy and Polly gaped in wonder, finger on lip 
Moll and Sukey leaned forrard as you lean to a fire 
in winter, and their mother gathered them to herself 
jealously. Missis Sexton spread her flounces, and 
Jancis coloured up and said “O >” and set one of her 
ringlets straight, and said “O again Mother smiled 
at him, and Felena — well, Feiena’s eyes settled on 
him as a brown owl drops to its prey 

I sat down farther back in my corner, and a faint- 
ness came over me. For here was my lover and mv 
lord, and behold! I was hare-shotten. 
in 



the game of costly COLOURS in 


The room was all so still, you could hear the drip 
of water off the 

All of a sudden he laughed out, and indeed it must 
have been a comical thing to see us all like mice when 
Pussy goes by, and to hear us one minute making 
such a to-do, and the next making no to-do at all. 

He off with his hat and made us a little bow and 
said — 

“Sarvant, ladies ! The weaver, if you please.” 

If we pleased! As if we wouldna be pleased with 
anything he met say! So he was the weaver! Well, 
it made no manner difference to me. If he'd said he 
was the king of Fairyland or a murderer with the 
bloodhounds after un, it would ha' been all one to me. 

“Kester Woodseaves, if you please, missus,” he 
says in a kind of merry mockery, looking towards 
Missis Sexton, she being the biggest, both in tallness 
and roundness 

Then Missis Beguildy brought him to the fire and 
made him take bite and sup But I kept out of sight. 

“Be you from far, sir?” asks Felena in her linger- 
ing way. Her lips were red and pleasant, though not 
kind. 

“Lullingford, missus,” he made answer, with a 
measuring look. “Neither very near nor very far” 

“As the crow flies, near,” she said, as if she 
pleaded 

“Only we bain’t crows, missus ” 

“I live on the mountain over yonder,” she says; 
“and I'm nigher to Lullingford, a power, than 
these.” 

“A longish ride.” 



PRECIOUS BANE 


Il6 


“Not far! I * be op vour road to — a’most every- 
where.” 

I thought, “She says all I’d like to say ” 

“By gum, missus, I doubt it’s on the way to hell,” 
he made answer. 

They were like folk wrestling, but we did not know 
their quarrel. 

“Oh, I be glad it’s you that’s to weave my wedding 
linen, and not the ugly hired man,” said Jancis. 

“So you’re to be wed, child?” 

“Ah. To Gideon Sara, sir. Dun you know 
Gideon ?” 

“I’ve heard tell of him ” 

I wondered what he’d heard of Gideon. All in a 
minute it was more to me that he should like Gideon 
and Mother and me than that I should master the 
reading of Revelations, which beat me still, because 
.of the strange words and the roundabout way of the 
telling. I’d laboured over it a long while, and labour 
brings a thing near the heart’s core Above and 
beyond that, I wanted to know the mind of John, he 
being lonesome on his bylet in the sea as we were at 
Sam, and having many thoughts in his mind, both 
deep and bright Now one like Tivvy had no thoughts 
at all, and you soon tire of looking in an empty por- 
ringer. And Mother had two thoughts or three, and 
Gideon two. So the mind of John had drawn me as 
none other did afore; but now the book of Revela- 
tions was but a windle-straw to this man’s whim. 

“Oh, Mister Woodseaves, will you come to my 
wedding if Prue writes you a bidding-letter 5 ” 

Jancis. 



THE GAME OF COSTLY COLOURS II/ 


“Maybe I ool,” he made answer, looking at her 
mother as much as to say that she could give him the 
go-by if she would. “And who’s Prue, that can write 
bidding-letters ?” 

I was m a swelter, but just as Jancis was going to 
rush on me and drag me out of hiding, Sukey and 
Moll, who could never be quiet for long, burst 
out 

“Please, mister, ool you come to our weddings 
too? ” 

Then they giggled mightily, and put their heads 
together, shaking their curls and bending their long 
necks Then they put their hands afore their mouths 
and ran across the kitchen to him, and one whispered 
in this ear and one whispered in that, and then they 
ran back, to their bench, two-double with laughter. 
Jancis, being near, heard Sukey whisper, ‘Td lief you 
were bridegroom!” I hoped their mother wouldna 
get to know, and slipper them again, for they’d saved 
me from being seen. I couldna bear that he should 
see me, for fear of a cold look, or scorn. I’d liefer 
stay down-under, like the daffadily, lest the weather 
be winterly. For if she too eagerly comes up, desirous 
of the sun, she can but stand and shudder in the bitter 
frost, tom by the fangs of the winds So she has 
lost her warmship, and yet hanna won through to 
summer. 

“Sir l Be you wed?” asked Felena, and her voice 
was pretty and slippery like a grass snake. 

“Why, no to that, missus.” 

“Nor handfasted?” 

“Tm thinking you were an attorney once,” he says, 



PRECIOUS BANE 


1 18 

“and stuck questions into poor men like skewers before 
you put ’em out of their misery ” 

She took no notice, but only said — 

“You be not of this country You come from 
afar.” 

“Oh, indeed to goodness, he is of this country, 
Missis Felena,” Mother chirped up like a little bird 
“He came back from being ’prentice after his uncle 
was drownded It was his uncle wove the mourning 
when my poor maister died, falling down in a fit 
and dying in his boots on the sabbath the bees did 
play.” 

“And, now he’s dead and your A’ntie’s dead, you 
live by your lonesome, I suppose,” says Jancis 

“Well, I do and I don’t.” 

“Dear to goodness, Mister, have you got a kept 
’oman?” 

This was Felena. 

“Your thoughts be all beaded on one string,” says 
Kester. 

Then Sukey and Moll burst out — 

“Who cooks for ye?” 

“Who sweeps for ye ?” 

“Who sews yer buttons on?” 

“Who knits yer stockings?” 

“I do for myself, my dears, and my thoughts be 
my company.” 

He looked round very contented, and I could see 
he was thankful that none of all these women had a 
right to come over his door-sill 

“Well, thank you for me. Missus,” he said, putting 



T jc£ £ GAME OF COSTLY COLOURS I ig 


down his mug and plate "'And now for work. The 
loom’s m the attic, I suppose?” 

“Ah, I’ll show you. There’s a bed there too. You 
wunna finish for two days or three. There’s a plenty 
for you to do. But come down and get your supper 
along with us, for it inna every day we have a randy ” 
By the time she came back every tongue was at it. 
Sukey and Moll were quarrelling as to which of them, 
if they could do as they willed and go and work for 
him, should pour his supper ale and fill his pipe. It 
was enough to make an owl laugh. 

“A nice young fellow,” says Missis Sexton, “and 
a God-fearing, I’ll lay, if the women let un alone ” 

She looked very meaningly at Felena 
But Felena was fallen into a muse 
“I like him better than Gideon, a power, though 
Gideon be your brother, Prue,” says Tivvy. 

Missis Miller spoke for the first time 
“He’s as different,” she said, “as different as mortal 
man could be, from the Miller!” 

It was the greatest praise she could give 
Polly gave a loud whoop, as if to say that she 
agreed 

“Well, time goes by, and even a toothache must be 
cured some day,” said Missis Beguildy “So we’d 
best set to at the caking afore my maister comes back 
Thank you kindly for the spinning We’ve done 
enough to keep that young man busy for above a 
bit ” 

She brought out a big willow-pattern dish stacked 
with cakes, saffron and sponge-fingers and ginger- 



l20 


PRECIOUS BANE 


bread babies. These last are little men of ginger- 
bread, with currants for eyes. 

Sukey and Moll screamed with joy to see them 

“I dunna care about the others, if so be I can 
win a gingerbread man says Sukey. 

“I'll win six,” says Moll. “Six curranty babies for 
me!” 

“You’ll need more gumption than you’ve got then,” 
says Missis Sexton, “For there’s no game so hard 
as the game of Costly Colours. I’ve played it at every 
randy since I was a maid, and I’ll lay that your Ma 
has too, and Missis Sarn and Missis Miller Yet it’s 
a difficult game to us still. And for you that have 
played it seldom or never, it’ll go hard, but you’ll lose 
every cake.” 

“Tell ’em the way of it,” says Missis Beguildy, 
“you’ve got such a head.” 

Though she meant it in good sadness, it made me 
laugh. For indeed Missis Sexton’s head was mar- 
vellous to see, with oiled hair in rolls and bobs and 
bands, and a high comb, and ribbons, and a vasty cap 
on top of all. 

She went across the kitchen like a coach and six, 
and stood by the fire, telling us about the game of 
Costly Colours — how you counted, and of the trumps, 
and how three of a suit was a prial, and four of a 
suit was Costly , and how you could mog, or change, 
your cards, and of the deuces and Jacks, and “Two 
for his heels, and how if you made nought of your 
hand it was called a cock’s nest, and you were bound 
to give a cake all round 

I canna mind a word!’ says poor Tivvy. 



THE GAME, OF COSTLY COLOURS 121 


“Nor me,” says Polly. 

So they stood out and left us ten, and it was only 
eight we wanted for two tables. So I offered to stand 
out. 

“Why, you be the best player of all,” says Jancis. 
And the mother of Sukey and Moll settled it, saying — « 

“Stand out, girls. You can play turn-the-trenche? 
with Polly and Tivvy. But no noise 

They burst out crying, wanting to win the cakes 
But their mother said did they want more slipper, so 
they hushed. Then she bought them each a ginger- 
bread man, and promised them some more at the end. 

Felena drew at the same table with me. That is 
to say, it was the pig-killing bench with a board and a 
white cloth on it, for they had but one table. 

“There’s not one of us women but ud like a ginger- 
bread man, is there, Prue Sarn?” she says “So, us 
being too old for cakes, shall us make-believe to be 
playing for the soul of the weaver?” 

“As you please,” I says. “But it seems to me to 
be none of our business ” 

“Why, Prue Sarn, you’re as white as a shroud one 
minute, and as red as a peony the next, and such 
burning eyes ! What ails you?” 

I was angry, yet there was a warmship in this one 
thing, that she seemed to be counting me as one like 
herself, and not as one that was set aside from the 
game of love, I suppose, being under suspicion of 
dancing with the devil, she had a fellow-feeling with 
me for being mixed up with tales of witchcraft. For 
they’d even begun to say of me that I took shape as a 
hare on dark moonless nights, and went loping across 



122 


PRECIOUS BANE 


the hills, and had a muse running under the church- 
yard. Such things were first said m idleness or mis- 
chief or to scare children, and then, in the loneliness 
of old farms, full of creakmgs and moanings on windy 
nights, they grew. And none can tell what such 
things will grow into at long last, nor what harm they 
may do. I didna like it much when Felena took his 
name on her lips, for all on a sudden it was a precious 
name to me. And it seemed to me then, as it ever 
has, that he was not a man to speak of lightly. 
Watching him out of my darkness beyond the settle, 
I had thought his wrath would be like a cloud-burst, 
though his smile was a spring day full of warm gilly- 
flowers. 

Felena drew me farther from the rest. 

“A man,” she said, “whose like I’ve not seen afore, 
neither on the roads nor at market The others are 
gaubies to him. Did you see the colour of his eyes?” 

“No.” 

“Nor could I see His eyelids cut across them so 
straight, and the candle of his eye is so big and black, 
you canna see the colour. I’d lief be nigh him, to 
see” 

Her glass-green eyes misted, and a rich, swooning 
look came over her 

“A man to gamble for,” she said 

“Take your places! Take your places! Cut for 
first deal in the game of Costly Colours !” cries Missis 
Sexton. 

As I sat down I twisted the words of Felena in 
my mind, and said in the deeps of myself — 

“Not a man to gamble for. A man to die for ” 



THE GAME OF COSTLY COLOURS I23 

We gave our minds to the game, and the four girls 
having been sent into the yard, the room was as silent 
as a dream 

I could hear them singing Barley Bridge out there. 

Shift your feet in nimble flight, 

You'll be home by candlelight . 

Open the gates as wide as the sky. 

And let the king come riding by . 

After a while the singing died away, and I worn 
dered what mischief was brewing. But I’d enough to 
do, for I was determined to beat Felena, and as Missis 
Sexton was her partner and Missis Miller was mine, 
I knew I should have my work cut out 

The fire, mended with pme wood, gave a good, 
sweet smell and a warm light, enough to play by. It 
lit up the walls, and the sticky gingerbread men on 
the blue dish, and Jancis, as fair to see as if she’d been 
made out of solid gold in old time, for an altar. In 
the quietness, with Barley Bridge in my mind, a sort 
of waking dream came to me. 

I saw a great crowd of people beside the troubled 
water of Sarn. They were dressed in holiday colours, 
but their faces were evil. Then one came riding 
through them on a tall horse, and his face was the 
face of the weaver. A woman stood forth from the 
crowd. She had a necklace of green glass beads and 
green blazing eyes She cried out- 

“My body, my body, for a ride on your saddle 

But he turned aside from her to one who stood 
hidden, in a torn, sad-coloured dress, with a hare- 
shotten lip. 



124 


PRECIOUS BANE 


He stooped to her, saying — 

“ Ah, my dear acquaintance ! ” 

And she gave him a sprig of rosemary She said 
no word, and she supposed he would go by her. But 
he set his arms about her and gathered her up before 
him on the saddle, and his right arm was strong around 
her So they rode away, and the sound of the people 
died till it w r as less than the hum of a midge, and there 
was nothing but a scent of rosemary, and warm sun, 
and the horse lengthening its stride towards the moun- 
tains, whence came the air of morning. 

'Two for his nob!” called Missis Sexton. "Your 
deal, Prue.” 

So I tucked my legs under the bench as well as I 
could for her furbelows, and went at it with a will. 
And I may say that Missis Miller and I won, out and 
out, to her everlasting astonishment. For she seemed 
to think it an impertinence on her part to beat Missis 
Sexton 

"You played like a demon, Prue Sam,” said Felena. 

It was late, so Jancis opened the door and called, 
"Supper!” and in rushed the four hoydens, who 
seemed children to me, though I was nearly of an age 
with them. They burst out with their doings, though 
they had better have kept them to themselves. 

“We've bin in the attic ” 

"We sat on the bed?” 

"He can whistle like a throstle.” 

"He weaves as quick as ninepence !” 

“He's got a green coat for Sundays and a Bible 
with pictures in it, and he can read the Bible.” 



THE GAME OF COSTLY COLOURS I25 


“He’s got a watch, and a pipe with a silver band, 
and he won the wrestlers’ medal at Silverton ” 

“He canna abide bull-baiting nor cock-fighting nor 
shameless women.” 

“He likes a good song and home-brewed in reason, 
and a dance in the meadow, and the sound of bells ” 

“He’s got a great lump of muscle on his arm, like 
a frozen snowball ” 

“We measured un on the attic door, and found the 
inches with the weaver’s measure.” 

“He be thirty-eight inches round the middle and 
five foot ten inches high 

“He’s got a pair of Wellington boots, but he dunna 
wear ’em much, being above his station and a dommed 
lot of trouble to clean ” 

“He said dommed, we didna” 

“He likes children and dogs and a quiet life ” 

“He wouldna mind a missus of his own if she was 
biddable. Only he’s never seen the woman he’d lief 
have yet ” 

“His eyes be watchet blue, what you can see of ’em 
for the black middles and the lids and the lashes ” 

“And if so be he’d got any sisters he’d like ’em to 
favour Sukey and me !” 

“God bless me!” says the mother of Sukey and 
Moll, and I could see the slipper threatening, “God 
bless me, not a thousand starlings in the reeds make 
such a din.” 

It was lucky for the girls that their mother hap- 
pened to have won. 

“Get your tippets on now, this instant minute !” she 
said 



126 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“Call un down, Jancis!” they pleaded. 

So she called him to supper The sound of the 
treaddles and the thud of the batten stopped, and he 
came down. 

Sukey ran to him and put summat into his hand 
Then they made their curtsies and said — 

“Thank you for me,” and followed their mother. 
But Sukey put her head in at the door again, and 
gave a bit of a giggle and whispered — 

“I gid him my gingerbread baby !” 

“Out, girls!” ordered their mother, and off they 
went, with a lanthorn to light them, and the ox-goad 
m case of gentlemen of the road. 

I went out to the barn, that Kester Woodseaves 
might not see me, and when I came back he was gone 
to the attic again Felena had gone early, with a 
luring smile and a word for him 

“If you come our way. Mister, I'll learn you the 
story of Adam and Eve ” 

The two from the mill were very unwilling to part, 
but at last they went, and we made ready to go also 
“A right good caking!” says Missis Beguildy “Tve 
made enough on the cakes to pay weaver, and we’ve 
spun a deal. A Love Spinning's a great salvation. 
So now you can tell your son, Missis Sarn, as we shall 
be ready with the bride and the linen as well, when 
he gives the word to make the bed ” 

Beguildy raught back as we set out He was a bit 
peart, but not drunk. He said he'd met Miss Dora- 
bella’s cousin, and that he wouldna believe Beguildy 
could raise Venus So he'd told him to come and see 
for himself. 



THE GAME OF COSTLY COLOURS 12J 


“Venus? Where is the baggage?” says his wife. 
“How can you raise her if she mna here?” 

But he'd only sing- — 

“ Peter sat a-weeping, }> 

xnd play, very dot-and-go-one, on his little hints 



chapter seven: “The Maister Be Come 9 ' 

"TX7ELL, Sarn,” says Mother when we raught 

** back, “w e’ve spun a deal and had a good randy, 
ana now your wedding sheets be on the loom ” 

Gideon looked bashful and said it ud be many a 
Jong day afore enough of money was gotten together 
for that 

“Our Prue won at her table !” 

“Eh, did she now? Well done!” 

He could understand that and respect it, for it was 
what he liked to do 

“Cakes enough to keep us a week of nine days!” 
says Mother 

“She was thinking of the savation, I make no 
doubt” 

“No, I wunna, Mother,” I said. 

“Why, what was it then?” 

“I dunno. I just wanted — Costly Colours, 
Mother,” I says, in a foolish way 

“But what use be they if you get no cakes with 
them?” 

I said I supposed they were no use, but all the 
same I wanted them — the Costly Colours 

“She's sleepy,” says Gideon, “that’s what she is, 
.rise she’d talk sense Best go to bed both ” 

“Shanna I bide for the lambs?” 

For at lambing-time I was used to sit up part of the 
nights, to let Gideon get a wink of sleep But he said 

128 



/ < 


THE MAISTER BE COME" I29 


no, I'd had a day of it, and I might as well finish in 
style with a good night 

“I've bin as lazy as a lord all day," he says, “being 
obliged to be about the place to do the little jobs " 

He was a good-hearted lad, in spite of all, and if he 
missed to do a kindness it was only because he didna 
think of it, or because his mind was so set on one 
thing And times if he'd been callous and it was 
brought home to him, he'd take it very hard, though 
often it was a long while after. 

“Well, bed then, Prue!" 

Mother hopped about with her stick like a robin 
with the rheumatics. 

“It's been a grand day A day to think on and talk 
over Not wrong neither, for if we be still in our 
blacks, it was a kindness we were doing. None can 
blame for a kindness. Did I demean myself well, 
Prue?" 

“Why, yes, Mother, no danger!" 

“Did I spin well?" 

“You spun grand." 

She ever had this way of asking, like a child, and 
she wound herself round your heart like a child, too. 

“And such a nice young man, the weaver be, Sarn ! 
A man any woman ud like for a son." 

“Be that Woodseaves?" 

“Ah ” 

“A fine wrostler, they say. A deal of booklarning 
for one of our class too. Squire offered un a clerk- 
ing job at the Hall, but he wouldna take it Said he’d 
liefer work with his hands and that he couldna abide 
politics, for they were all lies and he’d sooner keep 



13 ° 


P E E'g'l Ol S BANE 


clear ‘I’ll weave white linen rather than black lies/ 
he says, and the owd Squire was very huffy. He’d 
like to have given Woodseaves warning to leave the 
place, only the house is hisn, willed by his uncle ” 

Mother wanted to know if I liked the weaver. 

“I thought you didna, my dear, for you never 
spoke, but went beyond the settle ” 

“Like him?” I said. “Oh . . . like him?” 

“Why, look ye,Prue, you be asleep on your feet,” said 
Gideon. “Off to bed now, or you’ll do no work to- 
day’s morrow ” 

But indeed I was not asleep, but moithered For 
it is a strange thing, and very strange, when the 
maister is come, and you would lief fetch him in and 
bring out the best, fresh butter and cheese in large 
dishes, and new milk, even to the top of the big stean, 
and when you’d put on your Sabbath gown and a 
posy, and smile at him with a yes for all his askings, 
and behold 1 all is nothing, for you have a hare-shotten 
lip, being under the ban of witchcraft. 

“The Maister he come, and calleth for thee. The 
Maister he come ...” 

All night, in the attic, I could hear those words, 
very triumphing and yet sad And when the dark 
thinned and shapes began to steal out from the black- 
ness, and the smell of dawn came in, and our game- 
cock crowed loud and sweet because it was the be- 
ginning of spring, I still heard those words, with 
kindness in them and a shiver of dread — “The 
Maister he come.” 

The words made such a murmuration, and were so 
piercing-sweet that I wrote them m my book. Of all 



S € 


THE MAISTER BE COME 


S 3 


131 


had thought to write of the Love-spinning and the 
game of Costly Colours, and of his coming, I wrote 
little. Yet when I open the book and see those four 
words m the very best tall script I could do, it all 
comes back to me so clear, as if it was to-day. 

I looked at the loom, and saw him there, weaving 
I looked at my copy book and wondered if he could 
do the tall script and the short, red and black, plain 
and flourished And I was very sure that he could 
do them all, and more 

Next morning Jancis came running down the path, 
and I wanted to say, “Is he well?” For it seemed to 
me that anything might have come to him in the dark 
hours But I could only say, “When does the weaver 
go?" 

“Oh, to-morrow,” she said, as if it was no matter. 

Then she cried and begged me to help her, for 
Beguildy was determined to raise Venus to confound 
the young squire, come what might 

“And it be me as is to be Venus! Oh dear! Oh 
dear! And it's the day after to-morrow. And I’m 
feared, Prue For if Sarn knew that I’d stood up 
a room all naked with a pink light a-shining on 
me, and a strange man there, never would he speak 
to me agen ” 

“No,” I said, for I knew Gideon pretty well. 

“And he’d be bound to find out.” 

“Ah, he met” 

“But Feyther’s mad about it Raise Venus he ool. 
He says young Mister Camperdme laughed so, and 
dapped him on shoulder and said he’d give un five 
pound to do it, whatever he raised. Five pound 



132 


PRECIOUS BANE 


Prue ! And when I said no, he beat me. And he says 
\f I wunna do it, he’ll put me to the field work, and 
beat me every Saturday for a year Oh, Prue, what- 
ever is to be done?” 

“How’s he going to set about it?” 

“Oh, I’m to be m the cellar under his room, and 
the trap door’s to be open, and I’m to have a rope 
under armpits on a pulley to the roof, and Mother’s 
to be in cellar to light the smoky stuff and put the rope 
round me proper. Then Feyther’ll pull the rope m 
the kitchen, under the door, and I shall come up slow 
under the red light He says it ull be too dimmery 
to see my face, but that’s poor comfort. It wouldna 
be any excuse to Sarn’s mind.” 

“No Be you very fond of Gideon, Jancis?” 

“Ah, I be” 

“Do ye mind that text, 'The Maister be come’ ?” 

“In the Bible? Ah, I mind it” 

“Do you feel that way about Gideon?” 

The pretty colour came m her face. 

“Oh, yes, indeed, Sarn be maister ” 

“And the other . . . goes to-morrow, you say?” 

“What other?” 

“Why, Mister Woodseaves ” 

“Oh, he goes to-morrow ” 

“Well, look ye, Jancis, I’ll do it for you.” 

"You?” 

Her mouth was so round and so red in her astonish- 
ment that I could have hit the girl 

“Yes, me! I know it’s a funny thing for me to be 
Venus,” I said bitterly. 

“But Feyther ud know.” 



"the maister e come" 133 

“You say he’s to be in the kitchen.” 

“And the young man!” 

“You say he inna to see your face. It’ll be dark 
and I’ll turn aside. And I’ll put the muslin off the 
currant bushes over my head, so as he wunna see my 
dark hair He’ll see what he’s come to see, the gallus 
young wretch, a naked woman. Then he’ll pay the 
money and you’ll go free.” 

“Oh, Prue, you be good! I love you, Prue! I’ll 
make it up to you some way. The best of it is that it 
wunna matter for you, seeing you’ll never have a 
lover.” 

So cruel can folk be, and mean nothing This was 
the reward for my kind act But those that say good 
doings are rewarded are wrong. 

I’d like to have strangled her for that saying. The 
angry blood was roaring in my ears. 

“Go away now,” I said “We’ll talk of it to- 
morrow. But go quick now out of my sight 1” 

And with a puzzled and frightened look she went. 



chapter eight: Raising Venus 

0 ERIOUS-MINDED folk will need to pass ovev 
^ this raising of Venus, but I will shorten it as well 
as I can. It seemed a dreadful thing to me, as I set 
forth when the evening came, that I should be going 
to show myself stark naked. For though I knew that 
Miss Dorabella and other grand ladies did take off 
the tops of their gowns, evenings, and come forth 
half bare, and think it no shame, yet women of our 
sort have more chariness of themselves. 

As I went in by the garden way, through the door on 
the low level, not to be seen, I was all of a tremble, and 
it was only the pitifulness of poor Jancis that made 
me go through with it. We could hear Beguildy 
moving about up above opening the trap-door and 
putting all ready. I thought what a silly old man he 
was, to think anybody believed in his May-g am es 
Then we heard young Mister Camperdine’s horse, and 
there was a shuffling of feet above, and Beguildy 
pulled on the rope to show all was ready 

Oftentimes it is easier to die for love’s sake than 
to be made a fool of for love’s sake. So I thought 
as I was lugged up into the dark room in a cloud of 
smoke that made me gasp, holding out my hands to 
keep me from knocking against the sides of the trap, 
and not knowing whether to laugh at the foolishness 
of it all, or to cry at the sorrowfulness of this play- 



RAISING VENUS 


135 


acting, which so mocked me. For here I was pretend- 
ing to be the most beautiful woman that ever was, and 
a goddess into the bargain, and yet I was cursed as 
you know. 

All was dimmery in the room. I could but just 
make out a figure at the far side Beguildy was sing- 
ing some queer kind of spell in the kitchen, and the 
young man's horse was stamping and shaking its 
bridle outside. 

As 1 came up clear of the trap, and hung there in 
the rosy hght, the young squire started forrard in 
his chair, and held out his hands like a child at a 
pastry shop. But I knew he was under solemn oath 
not to stir from his chair. I thought it must be a 
strange thing to go through life with men holding 
out their hands on this side and on that, to be always 
the pastry cake in the window with hungry eyes upon 
it Then all of a sudden I heard a movement on the 
other side of the room, and turning that way I could 
have cried aloud, for there sat Kester Woodseaves 

Did ever Fate play such a trick? Here was the one 
man out of all the world that I must hide from, since 
already I loved him so dear, and so must never hurt 
him with my grief. And there he was, so close in the 
small place that two strides would have fetched him 
to me He was leaning forrard like the young squire, 
and he made to hold his arms out and then drew 
back and gave a sigh, and I know now that the desire 
of woman was stirring within him It came on me 
then with a great joy that it was my own self and no 
other that had made him hold out his arms. For 
in that place he could not see my curse, he could only 



136 


PRECIOUS BANE 


see me gleaming pale as any woman would Often 
since, I have wondered if he’d have been so stirred if 
it had been Jancis hanging there, crucified m naked- 
ness, instead of me Was it all of the flesh as it was 
with the young squire, or did my soul, that was twin 
to his, draw him and wile him, succour his heart and 
summon his love, even then? For I do think that the 
spirit makes herself busy about the body, and breathes 
through it, and throws a veil over it to make it more 
fair than it is of itself For what is flesh alone? You 
may see flesh alone and feel nought but loathing. You 
may see it in the butcher’s shop cut up, or in the 
gutter, drunken, or in the coffin, dead For the world 
is full of flesh as the chandler’s shelf is full of lan- 
thorns at the beginning of winter But it inna till you 
take the lanthorn home and light it that you have any 
comfort of it And I have ever seen that the women 
with fair mounded cheeks, and breasts like the round 
pyatt where Felena danced, yet lacking any soul to 
laugh or weep in them, be not the ones that draw men. 
The ones that lure men to them by the tuthree, the 
score, and the hundred, as folk draw towards a lighted 
church when the Easter Supper is ready, be often 
those that care not much for their bodies 

This is a strange thing, as true things are often, but 
not so strange as this wiling and summoning of a man 
by a woman flawed and cursed, a woman to whom it 
was said, “You’ll never have a lover ” Two men 
would have been my lovers that night if I’d willed it 
so. And as I saw the squire’s shoulders stooped 
forrard with the weight of his longing I knew for the 
first time that, whatever my face might be, my body 



RAISING VENUS 


137 


was fair enough. From foot to shoulder I was as 
passable as any woman could be. Under the red light 
my flesh was like rose petals, and the shape of me 
was such as the water-fairies were said to have, lissom 
and lovesome. 

I hadna cared so much, nor been so dismayed, at 
playing this foolish game afore a stranger. But now 
I was all one blush from head to foot, and cold as ice 
as well. Every second was an hour, and I was 
shamed as if I had gone whoring. Yet I couldna but 
rejoice to have given my body in this wise to the eyes 
of him who was maister in the house of me for ever 
and ever. 

I pulled the muslin over my face and looked slant- 
ing through it towards this wonder. For indeed he 
was a wonder to me then and always, not for his looks 
nor for anything that he did, but for the silent power 
of what he was, the power gathered up in him, as 
tremendous as a great mountain on the sky, that you 
couldna measure nor name, but only feel. 

In the thinning smoke I could see him, with his face 
set beneath the shock of bodily love, for whether or not 
he loved me after, he did in that hour, and with the 
wounded look that is ever on the faces of men 
between the coming of the lust of the eye and its satis- 
fying 

It takes a long while to write down, but I was only 
in the room as long as Missis Beguildy could count 
sixty. Beguildy was afraid they'd find him out if he 
allowed them too long, never dreaming, poor simple 
fool, that neither of them believed a word of his tales 
While I was still faint}/ from the shock of seeing 



138 PRECIOUS BANE 

Kester Woodseaves, Beguildy called from the 
Kitchen — 

“Well, well, gentlemen, have I yearned my five 
pound ?” 

“Aye, aye !” says Mister Camperdme, with his look 
heavy on me, “and more, and more !” 

Beguildy began to sing another foolish rhyme, 
which was tha sign for me to be ready to go down 
Never was any woman so glad of a cellar as I was 
when I raught back there I got into my clothes as 
quick as might be, for we could hear the squire 
argufying with Beguildy in the kitchen 

“What now? What now? Speak with a bogy?” 
Beguildy was saying. “Now how can ye speak with 
Missis Venus, and she dead and gone this thousand 
year? I fetched her back for ye, through the grave 
and gate of death, for five pound in cash, but I canna 
keep her. She comes a-walkmg on the air, in a cloud, 
for the time you can count sixty, and then she’s gone. 
For she is but a beautiful bogy, seesta! and she mun 
be raught home by candlelight.” 

There was a great burst of laughter at that, and as 
Mister Camperdme went out to his horse, he called 
back — 

“I’ll have another look at Venus one day, Beguildy. 
She’s got a very tidy figure, by Gad, wherever she’s 
from !” 

As I crept home under the close net of winter 
boughs, my heart was all dumbfounded, even as the 
heart of a bride when first her lover looks upon her 
beauty. Only there was shame in tins, and a great 
distress, being that I was no bride, and that I had been 



RAISING VENUS 139 

stared-upon and longed-after by a strange man as well 
as by him that was the world and all to me, though 
I had seen him but once afore. 

It was strange to think that while I went about my 
house-work and out-door work to-morrow, slaving 
like a man, at men's jobs, I should be in my own 
soul the bride of the weaver. While I ploughed with 
Gideon, turning up the frosty earth, while I cleaned 
the shippen in my sacking and clogs, while I stood in 
the mucky fold giving the ducks and fowls their meat, 
looking more like a man than a woman, and more like 
a mawkin than a man, all this time I should be woman 
to him, dwelling beneath the light of his eyes, warmed 
by his smile, his banner over me being love. While I 
strode but half a furrow or so behind Gideon, I 
should be lying trembling in my lover's arms, fainty 
as I was at Beguildy’s. Though my hands were hard 
and chapped and my face red and coarsened with 
weather, I should be, while I thought upon him I 
loved, a flower and the petal of a flower For love 
is a May-dew that can turn the swartest woman to 
a Jancis. And though I had but the shadow of it, 
yes! the shadow of a shadow, as when you see the 
reflection of a water-lily in the mere, not still, but in 
ripples, so that even the reflection is all distraught and 
is not wholly yours, yet it had made the world all 
anew. 

I wondered if aught would have happened to me 
in my outward life by the* time the water-lilies came 
again, lying along the edges of the mere like great 
gouts of pale wax. There was but a mockery of 
them now, for amid the frozen leaves lay lilies of ice. 



140 


PRECIOUS BANE 


Yet as I thought of Kester Woodseaves and what he 
had come to mean, I seemed to hear and see on this 
side and on that, in the dark woods, a sound and a 
gleam of the gathering of spring. There was a piping 
call in the oakwood, a bursting of purple in the tree- 
tops, a soft yellowing of celandine in the rookery. 
When I was come into the attic, spring was there 
afore me, though it was so cold that my hands could 
scarce write None the less, I put down in my book 
the words, '‘The first day of spring ” And I wrote it 
in the best tall script, flourished. So I should ever call 
to mind the second time of seeing him I loved, and the 
first time of his seeing me. Not only had he looked 
at me, but he had looked with favour and longing, 
and though I knew it was only because the truth was 
hidden from him, yet I was glad of what I had, as a 
winter bird is, that will come to your hand for a little 
crumb, though in plenteous times she would but mock 
you from the topmost bough 

I took my crumb, and behold! it was the Lord’s 
Supper. 



chapter nine: The Game of Conquer 

f N the morning, ploughing one of the far meadows 
with Gideon, I saw yellow nut catkins in the hedge, 
and brought them home and set them in a jug on my 
locker m the attic. I plucked them early, and tied 
a bunch to each of the ox's horns, so all that day of 
sad-coloured weather the white cattle went up and 
down the red field, which was white-over in parts, 
so that they looked yellow, with nodding gold plumes 
on their heads, as if it was a fair. When we urn 
spanned, Gideon said — 

“What’n you been after, bedizening the cattle?" 
"It's May Day," I says 

Gideon looked bepuzzled, but he said, well, he sup- 
posed I liked my jokes, and he didna complain so I 
worked well “When'll this weary old ploughing be 
done, Gideon?" I says, for of all things I hated it, 
not for itself, but because it spread out over our lives 
till there was no room for anything else He was in 
a fever to plough. Dawn and dark, frost and rain, 
he'd be on the land, hard at it, and often when it did 
the land more harm than good. All the farm was to 
be corn. All the rickyard was to be full of corn 
Only grow enow of corn, he said, and we should be 
rich afore we knew it I couldna abide the new law, 
which made it pay so well 

“As soon as we've got enow, off we'll go, Prue, 
and never see the place again," he said 



14-2 PRECIOUS BANE 

“I canna understand that, Gideon,” I told un. “Ii 
you were land-proud, I could But it do seem so 
queer to spend every bit of time and strength on the 
land, like a mother with a child, and then not love it 
It’s as if the mother cared nought for the child, but 
only cared to sell it.” 

“Ah, that’s the size of it, Prue. I dunna care a 
domm for the land. Nor yet I dunna care for the 
money. Not as money” 

“Well, what is it you do care for?” 

“To get me teeth into summat hard and chaw it. 
To play Conquer till there inna a cob nor a conker 
left but mine To be king-o’-the-wik and the only 
apple on the bough ” 

“But for why, Gideon ?” 

“You be always asking me for why. Because I was 
made like that and I canna go agen it.” 

We always came back to that. 

“The thing is, to keep the right men in, so as they 
canna change the law afore we’ve made our money,” 
he said. 

It was just as if the country was his mommet, to 
do his will and put crowns in his pocket. 

“Which be the right men?” 

“Them as keeps up the price of com ” 

“But the poor folk, that clem, would lief have prices 
down ” 

“They mun grin and abide. Let ’em work I 
.work, dunna I?” 

Indeed to goodness, he did work 1 He was nought 
but bone and muscle, and if he was a merciless man, 
he was merciless his own self first I said would 



THE GAME OF CONQUEROR I43 

he side with Squire, at elections, in spite of what 
Tviiss Dorabella said. 

"Ah, I doubt I mun. He’s got a deal of com land, 
hell never let prices down/' 

"And when’ll you leave ploughing?” 

"Not till we’ve bought the place, and there’s money 
i bank into the bargain.” 

"But when we’ve ploughed up all the farm, save 
what grass we’re bound to keep for the beasts, then 
you’ll be bound to stop.” 

"No If we hanna got enough of money, I shall 
start on the woods.” 

"Oh, deary, deary me!” I said, for I was like to cry. 
It was the unkmdest thing that he should think of 
the woods For now there’d never be any rest for 
any of us, since the woods were ours all round the 
farm, and there was work in them world without end. 
The tears rolled down my face, and I could feel them, 
cold and slow as the cold evening light. 

"Why, what ails ye?” says Gideon. "Crying? 
Bless me, what a wench! Look ye, girl, we be work- 
ing for the future.” 

"I mislike the future,” I said "It’s like the bran 
pie they give the Lullingford children, Christmas. You 
may get summat, but most likely you’ll only ge* 
motto. And if you get summat, ten to one it inna wild- 
you want, for what you want inna in the pie ” 

"Dear to goodness, what a mort of idle words * The 
future’s as you make it ” 

"Why, no,” I says. "It be like the blue country a 
traveller sees at dawn, and he dunna know if it’ll be a 
kind country with farms sending up a trail of smoke 



PRECIOUS BANE 


f 44 

in the sunset, and a meal for the asking, or if it’ll be 
a wild, savage moor where he’ll starve to death with 
cold afore morning ” 

“Why there now,” says Gideon, “you’re starved 
with cold, that’s what’s the matter. You want a cup 
o’ strong tea and a good plate of taters and bacon 
And hark ye ! If that inna Mother banging the tray 
I’ll be dommed.” 

Poor Mother set store by the evening time, being 
one that liked company. She said the days dragged 
so in the silent place, and she was timid, startled at the 
fall of a leaf or the creaking of a door She was used 
to plead with me, time and agen, to leave ploughing 
and bide with her a bit But I was bound to do 
Gideon’s will, so I made up comfortable tales for her 
of the day when we’d be well-to-do, with men and 
maids and a kitchen girl and no pigs She’d brighten 
up a bit, but soon she’d sigh and shake her head 

“A far cry, a far cry, Prue. Maybe I wunna last 
I’d lief things were a bit easier now, my dear 
I canna abide tending pigs in the ’oods My poor legs 
do ache, and if I set down I get the rheumatics. And 
the pigs do go daggling about down by the water, so 
my feet be always wet. I’d liefer less maids and men 
in the years to come, and less pigs now I’d liefer less 
company then and a bit more now. All that’s a long 
way off, and no more satisfying than the many man- 
sions of Paradise. Tell un that, Prue. Tell Sarn, 
my son, I’d liefer have a few things now, and not so 
many in the years to come.” 

“Ah, I’ll tell un, Mother. And you must think of 
the time when we’ll leave ploughing ” 



THE GAME OF CONQUEROR I45 


“Sarn’ll never leave ploughing Or if he does he’ll 
do summat else It’s this-a-way with un, he canna 
rest He’s like a man I heard tell of, riding post 
across the land with dreadful news, foundering nags 
and buying fresh uns, with no thought but to get 
there So when he got there and told the news he was 
so fixed m mind he couldna stop, but rode and rode, 
with no rest, crouching down and cutting the horse 
by day and by dark, going with no news to nowhere. 
They seyn he rides still I tell you, Prue, it ud have 
been better, a power, for us and for him too, if my 
son Sarn had bin born an idiot boy, to play with 
coloured stones and put daisies on a string ” 

She looked so strange, standing there m the fold, 
with her long staff and red cross-over shawl, with 
her mouth a-tremble and her eyes shining like a 
prophet’s, and the great lean pigs grunting and snout- 
ing around her, and Sarn Mere standing up beyond 
her like the blue glass round a figure in a church 
window I wondered if ever they put pigs in church 
windows, in pictures of the Prodigal Son, and I 
couldna help but laugh a bit in a kind of pitiful way, 
thinking that this here was the prodigal mother, and 
how glad we’d be if Gideon was a bit prodigal too 
r< What ails you, laughing?” she says 
# *Only to think as you be the prodigal mother ” 

“I dunna understand I canna understand ever-a 
one of my two chillun. Oh, deary me f But I take i 
unkind in you, Prue, to laugh when I be crying ” 
Poor Mother ! She said true things, times. She’ 
put words to my own complaint about the world* 
that laughed though I cried 



146 


PRECIOUS BANE 


"There, there, 111 tell Gideon, 1 ” I said. 

It was one of the queer things in our lives that 
* r as the go-between, taking messages from Mother to 
son. She could never get courage to begin, nor to 
face his cold, steely look. 

Next morning I spoke to Gideon He was in the 
field afore me, as always. It was frosty and misty, 
so the ploughed land looked like tarnished mirrors, 
or like the mere in overcast weather, sheeny and not 
solid. Where the frost held and the sun shone, the 
fields were polished, like water with a gleam on it. 

Gideon and the oxen came on slow, making a little 
solid dark picture in the lonesome fields. It put me 
in mind of the black oak figures carved on the peak of 
the gables on some of the Lullmgford houses, and 
always looking very dark on the sky. The breath of 
the oxen and the steam from their bodies stood up 
about them and hemmed them in, so as they went up 
and down they seemed like a picture, round and all 
to itself, that somebody was moving about in the 
waste of fields. 

“Gideon,” I says, “Mother be very middling. She 
wants rest. Get a lad to mind pigs in the woods.” 

“A lad! Dear to goodness, what lad?” 

“There’s Miller’s Tim. He’s not but seven, but he 
could mind pigs and I’d give un his tea.” 

“What! Feed a great lad of seven every day of 
the week save Sunday? Be you mad, Prue?” 

“Mother’s very moped and middling. She wants 
rest and she wants company in the going down of the 
years, and a bit of comfort.” 

“Amna I working for that? Inna she going to 



'IHE GAME OF CONQUEROR 147 

have maids and men, the best of good things, a pew 
in church, and real chaney to eat off?” 

“Ah l In the years to come, if she lasts. But she 
met not It be now that matters” 

“There’s nought ails Mother She can go on very 
well She gets good air minding pigs, and she can 
croodle over the fire after dark, to ease the rheu- 
matics.” 

“And she’s moped, lad. She wants me at home 
more ” 

“Well, you will be when we leave ploughing.” 

“That’s a long day. Any road, you mun get a boy 
to mind pigs.” 

“Mun, mun? Who be you to say that to me? I be 
maister of Sarn ” 

“You’ve no right to drive Mother to death when 
she’s old and ailing ” 

Gideon gave me that withering look 

“Maybe,” he says, very slow and bitter, “maybe 
you’d like to get wed and bring a lad to Sam that- 
a-way, to tend pigs. That is, if anybody’ll have 
ye ” 

He picked up the plough handles and went on down 
the furrow It needed a long while in the attic to 
wash out those words, but the power that was there 
washed them away in a while I made allowance for 
Gideon since he lost so many nights of rest, it being 
still lambing time For lambing time is the shepherd’s 
trial In the black of night, in the dead of the year, 
at goblin time, he must be up and about by his lone- 
some With mist like a shroud on him, and frosty 
winds like the chill of death, and snow whispering. 



148 


PRECIOUS BANE 


and a shriek on this side of the forest and a howl on 
that side, the shepherd must be waking, though the 
pleasant things of day are folded up and put by, and 
the comforting gabble and busyness of the house and 
the fold are still, and the ghosts are strong, thronging 
in on the east wind and on the north, with none to 
gainsay them. So when Gideon was short with me I 
only took a bit more time in the attic. It was pleasant 
there when spring drew on, with a dish of primmy- 
roses on the table and a warm wind blowing in. 
When April came we were still ploughing, and I was 
so used to it that I’d given over being tired, and 
enjoyed it, and sang to myself the while. It was 
grand to go down the red furrow with the share cut- 
ting strong into the stiff earth and shining like silver. 
It was fine to look away to the blue hills by Lulling- 
ford, and see the woods of oak and larch and willow 
all in bud between, as if a warm wind blew from 
there and called the leaves It was pleasant, too, 
seeing the rooks follow in a string at my heels, look- 
ing as if they’d been polished with the andiron brush, 
and to see the birds again that had been away, and 
to hear the water-ousel sing wild and sweet, and the 
lapwings change their winter cry for summat warmer. 
There were violets now to pull for market, and 
daffodillies in the corner under the ivy hedge, and 
tight pink buds like babies’ little fists in the apple trees. 

Mother cheered up a bit, and one day when we were 
having our tea by the window, with a bunch of gilly- 
flowers on table, she said — 
fi We’ll have the weaver.” 



THE GAME OF CONQUEROR 14$. 

I gave a gasp and a choke, and Mother wanted to 
know what ailed me 

“Nought, nought, but why not the weaver’s man? 
It ud be cheaper ” 

“I like the best weaving ” 

I tell into a dream, for if Kester was going to 
weave for us he’d have to come into the attic, walking 
to and agen round the weaving frame, looking out of 
my little window, making the place his place, so I 
should have him there for ever after. Yet still 
I couldna abide the thought of him seeing me, and I 
argufied for having the weaver’s man till Gideon 
thought I v r as in love with the fellow, though he was 
said to be simple and had got fourteen children into 
the bargain But Mother put on her spectacles and 
looked at me, and pushed them up and looked again, 
and settled them in place to look a third time. 

“We’ll have the weaver,” she said, and that was 
all 

It was the day after this that Jancis came rushing 
in, all wild, to say that Beguildy was going to take her 
to the hiring fair on May Day, unless Gideon could 
stop it She came into the dairy where I was churn- 
ing, and she said — 

“Oh, Prue, the young gentleman’s been again, and 
have me he will, leastways you 1” 

She gave a giggle m the midst of her crying. 

“And Father says it’s that or the hiring fair. It’ll 
be three years, Prue. I’ll be bound for a dairymaid 
or a kitchen wench for three years, that is, unless 
Gideon offers to wed with me now ” 



150 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“Gideon wunna, my dear, he’s fixed in mind about 
the ploughing Nought’!! turn him from that." 

“But I shouldna stop it” 

“You’d be another mouth to feed. And if you 
ailed—” 

“I shouldna. I be stronger than I look.” 

“You canna tell, Janets. When you wed, you begin 
a game of Blind Man’s Buff that ends you canna tell 
where. And if little uns came, what about all that 
money Gideon’s set on making?” 

“Oh, deary me ! Oh, I canna bear it, Prue I do 
love Gideon right well, and once parted may be as 
bad as never met” 

“Well, you talk to Gideon ” 

“And will you put in a word wiselike?” 

“Ah, I’ll put in a word. But what he wunna do 
for you, that be his dear acquaintance, he wunna do 
for me, that be nought but his hard-drove sister ” 

Just then Gideon came across the fold to fetch the 
buttermilk for the pigs 

He stood in the dairy door, and I thought it small 
wonder she was sweet on him, for in his smock and 
leather breeches, with his black head bare and his 
eyes blazing on Jancis, he was as well favoured a man 
as you could meet in ten parishes And I thought, 
as I looked round the dairy, that it was as good a 
place as anybody could wish for asking to wed The 
sun shone slanting in, though it was off the dairy 
most of the day The damp red quarries and the 
big brown steans made a deal of colour in the place, 
and the yellow cream and butter and the piles of 



THE GAME OF CONQUEROR 15I 

cheeses were as bright as buttercups and primmy- 
roses Jancis matched well with them, with her pretty 
yellow hair and her face all flushed at the sight of 
Gideon She was like a rose in her pink gown. Out- 
side the window, in the pink budded may tree, a thrush 
was singing I mind it all so clear, and should, even 
if it wasna written in my book. 

“You be early,” says Gideon. 

“And welcome?” 

“Oh, ah! You be surely welcome.” 

She looked at me mischievously as if she was ask- 
ing me if I did mind, and stood tiptoe for Gideon to 
kiss her 

“I’ve got news,” she says. “Good news or bad, 
you do make it.” 

“Me?” 

“Ah, it’s this-a-way, Sarn, Feyther says I mun — ■** 

She looked at me, helpless like. 

“Beguildy wants to sell the child, Gideon What’s 
the use of mincing words? He wants to sell her to 
young Camperdme for his pleasure.” 

Jancis hid her face in her hands 

“And if so be she says no, she’s to go as a kitchen 
wench to the May Fair and be prenticed for three 
years ” 

“What! Sell my girl? Beguildy’ll sell my girl? 
Dang me, I could drown him dead for that!” 

“He’s not sold her yet, Gideon ” 

“The better for un ” 

“But she’ll be bound prentice for three years, w y 
somewhere beyond Lullingford.” 



152 


PRECIOUS BANE 


Gideon stooped and pulled away her hands, looking 
fiercely on her face 

“Be you a true wench to me?” he says. “Dang me, 
if you’ve lost your maiden’ead to young Camperdme, 
111 lay un out with the pole-axe. Ah! And you I’ll 
strangle.” 

“No, no, Sarn, I hanna, I hanna,” she cried out. 
“I be a good maid to you, Sarn, indeed I be ” 

“But what’s she to do, Gideon? For unless shell 
be the young man’s light-o’-love she’s bound to go 
away.” 

“I canna abear to go away.” 

She burst out crying again. I waited for Gideon 
to speak, but he said nought 

“There’s one other way, Gideon.” 

I said it coaxing, for I knew it was his hour of 
choice for the two of them. The good road for both 
was in their power to take this day. It was one of 
the times in Gideon’s life when he might choose his 
blessing, the path of love and merry days where the 
pretty paigle grew, the keys of heaven, or the path of 
strange twists and turns, where was the thing of 
dread, the bane, the precious bane, that feeds on life 
blood. 

Jancis seemed to know also that their lives in some 
fashion hung upon this hour. She stooped down and 
kissed his hand, and she said m a soft hoarse voice — 

“O, be my sweetheart, Sarn !” 

Gideon gave a kind of groan 

“I know where you be dragging me, Prue,” he said, 
“with your eyes so strongly upon me. You be pulling 



THE GAME OF CONQUEROR 

me down to poverty and the loss of all I've dreamt 
of ” 

“I’d work double, lad/' I said 

“What use? You know right well what would 
happen Could any man do other with a pretty piece 
like that for missus ? Mouths to feed, mouths to feed. 
Never no grand house nor maids and men, nor pew 
in church. No money for you. No ’unt Ball for 
Jancis No hail-fellow-well-met with the gentry for 
me. If ever we make any money it wunna be for 
years and years We shall lose the house and go 
pottering on, eating up all we make A man with a 
wife and family never gets on. He mun make his 
money first ” 

“But wouldna you work better if you were happy, 
lad, with jancis happy too?” 

“Why, no Happiness and idleness be twins If 
you want to work, you munna be happy nor miserable. 
You mun just think of work and nought else. 
Another thing, if I take Jancis now, m the teeth of 
young Camperdme’s longing after her, he’ll be age 
me himself and he’ll set all the gentry agen me. 
Whatever’s made the man so mad in love, it’s done 
now, and we mun take care ” 

He looked at Jancis suspiciously, and she prayed 
me with her eyes to explain all But that I cculdna 
do I’d done a deal for Jancis, but that was too much. 
For I was afraid that if I spoke at all it would get 
round to Kester Woodseaves Jancis was under 
promise that none should know, saving only, in the 
utmost need, Gideon. So I kept silence, and I canna 



PRECIOUS BANE 


r *54 

see that it made any difference, for speaking would 
only have put it off, and Beguildy had made his mind 
up about Jancis, and if it wasna the young squire then 
it ud be somebody else It was best for Gideon to 
decide once for all, then if he chose right he and 
Jancis could be wed, and it would be out of Beguildy’s 
power to make any more plans. 

“It’ll only put off the riches for a bit, Gideon/* I 
said 

“No It ud put 5 em off for ever and ever The best 
thing to put off is getting wed We* 11 wait three year. 
That’ll give us time to turn round. Not as I want to 
put it off ” 

He fell silent, looking at Jancis I could see the 
longing in his face, and he was all of a tremble It 
was strange to see such a great strong fellow shaking 
like a woman that’s seen frittening. 

He took a step towards Jancis, and I made to go 
out, for I thought he’d take her in arms and all be 
well But all of a sudden he muttered — 

“No, no !** and drew back. Then he said — 

“There’d be no satin gown for ye to dance Sir 
Roger in at the *unt Ball then, Jancis You’d be 
sorry for that/* 

“Ah ” 

“Well, if you go for a dairymaid or summat you’ll 
be yearning for it as well as me Three year inna long 
By the end of three year all the ploughland should be 
bearing well, and us'il be reaping what we’ve sown ” 

“Dear Lord forbid,” I says 

Gideon fell into a rage, though why I never could 
think, and burst out — 



THE GA E OF CONQUEROR 155 


"Why that, now? Why that? I'm well content to 
reap what I sow." 

"But not if it's the bane, Gideon? Not if it's the 
precious bane as I read about in the book of the Vicar 
lent me? You dunna want that amid the com, lad, 
what grows in hell ? 5> 

“Whatever it is," he says, "if I sow it and it brings 
me the things I'd lief have, I'll welcome it " 

There came a little sobbing sound from Jancis, and 
when I looked at her I saw beyond her golden head 
the spring day all o’ercast and the thorn tree lashing 
in a sudden wind. 

"You'd best be going home-along, my dear," I sa}^ 
"There's tempest brewing " 

"I shall come on Sunday, and tell your dad what 1 
think on him," said Gideon. 

"No, no, dunna anger him*” 

"What do I care for his anger?" 

"Oh !" she cried out, "everything’s all as I wouldna 
have it Why canna folk live quiet and peaceful? 
Why must you be so fixed m your mind, Sarn? Hark 
at the wind rising J There’s summat foreboded." 

She began to cry again, hiding her face in her 
apron. 

"O, I wanted to send out the biddings and be 
shouted in church," she said, just as she used to say, 
"O, I wanted to play Green Gravel” 

Gideon snatched her to himself and kissed her, but 
he didna change his mind Once he'd made it up, 
nothing ever would turn him. 

"I mun go," she said. "Come and send me, 
Sara" 



■iS 6 


PRECIOUS BANE 


As they went, I saw her wring her hands and heard 
her say — 

“O, I see a dark road going down into the water. 
And the sun’s gone out. O, Sam, dunna make me 
walk that road !” 

All in a minute she’d faded away like a ehost in the 
wild, dark, stormy woods. 



Boo ’ Th're 

chapter one: The Hiring Fair 

O N May Day, there being a deal of stuff for marked 
I borrowed the Mill pony again and set out with 
Gideon very early, while yet the purple blossom and 
the green leaves of the lilac trees were all of a grey 
blur I’d pulled some lilac overnight for market, so 
we rode with the sighing of it and the good smell of 
it all about us It was a very still morning. Not a 
breath stirred the young red oak leaves, and even the 
silver birches, that will shift and shiver in any breeze, 
like water-weeds at the lake-side, were all becalmed 
like weeds far down where not a ripple comes. Save 
for our horse-hoofs on the wet flinty road there was 
no sound, neither from the grey fields on either side, 
nor from the water, the woods or the sky. So still! 
It seemed to me some miracle might come to pass o 
such a day. The dawn could not hold its breath 
more if Judgment was to break that eve, and the 
dead rise When the colour came in the hedges, the 
bird’s eye, that was in great plenty, looked upon us, 
very simple and innocent, as if thousands of blue-eyed 
children watched us go by. The ollem trees that 
fringed the road dripped with yellow catkins. Beyond 
stood the hills, mounded out of sapphire stones like 
the new Jerusalem, and all becalmed under a sky with- 

157 



P ECIOUS BANE 


158 

out so much as a cloud. Not a bird nor a trail of mist 
or smoke stirred in all the plain It seemed to me, 
as I rode alongside of Gideon without a word, while 
he frowned and darkened, thinking of Beguildy, that 
it was like a great open book with fair pages in which 
all might read. Only it was written in a secret script 
like some of Beguildy’s books that he never locked 
away, knowing they were safe. For indeed every tree 
and bush and little flower and sprig of moss, every 
least herb, sweet or bitter, bird that furrows the air 
and worm that furrows the soil, every beast going 
heavily about its task of living be to us a riddle with 
no answer. We know not what they do. And all this great 
universe that seems so still is but like a sleeping top, 
that looks still from very swiftness. But why it turns, 
and what we and all creatures do in the giddy stead- 
fastness of it, we know not. 

I said to Gideon that it was like a book 

“Book?” he says. “Why, no, I see no book. But 
I see a plenty of good land running to waste, as might 
be under corn.” 

So we see in the script of God what we’ve a mind 
to see, and nought else. 

We came beneath a wild pear tree in early blow, 
and it put me in mind of Jancis. 

“Now I wonder,” I said, “where Jancis’ll sleep this 
night?” 

“At Grimbles’.” 

“How can you tell?” 

“I can tell because I say it is to be Missis Grimble 
is for ever changing dairymaids, and I hear tell she's 
after one this year.” 



THE HIRING FAIR 


1 59 


“It's a long ways off, Gideon ” 

“None the worse for that, she'll be out of young 
Camp er dine’ s way” 

“She'll be terrible lonesome.” 

“You can write me a letter to her now and again.” 
“And welcome. But how'll she answer?” 

“I thought of that ” 

Gideon spoke triumphing-like. 

“It's such a great big place that they have the weaver 
every month or two. Weaver can write for Jancis.” 

“What?” I says, with my breath very short, know- 
ing I was going to say that name, “what, Mister 
Woodseaves?” 

“No other.” 

Why, dear to goodness, here was a queer trick of 
fortune for me! I was to write love-letters for him I 
loved to read, and he was to write letters back for me 
to read, once in every few weeks. I let the pony go 
her own pace, and we fell behind, for Mill pony was 
like Mill folk, and took everything sad and quiet, as 
if she'd been discouraged above a bit 

There'd be letters coming in the summer days, 
written in his own script, with his own wording and 
turns of speech. His hand would ha' moved slow 
along every page, over and over, while he looked down 
at the lettering with those long-shapen blue eyes that 
pierced to the heart's core Of course they'd be letters 
to somebody else from somebody else, and it ud be 
all the wrong way round, for his would be in the name 
of Jancis, to Gideon, and mine would be in the name 
of Gideon, to Jancis It would all be moithered and 
twisted and topsy-turvy like the water-lily shadows 



l60 PRECIOUS BANE 

in the mere, when I'd lief it met be clear and real. 
Still, I could speak my heart out. I could say the 
things I’d thought never to say. I could lay my soul 
as naked afore him as I myself had been, for no eyes 
but hisn would read my letters. Not that my soul was 
anything to show, but yet I greatly desired to show 
it This is a very strange thing, and ever to be found 
in lovers. I couldna help but laugh to think what a 
figure of fun Gideon would look dizened out in my 
soul, and how dumbfounded Jancis would be, hearing 
things read out of Gideon’s letters that no power of 
angel nor devil would ever make Gideon say, and how 
she’d pucker up her face and wonder if weaver was 
making game of her, and then think, “Oh, well, folks 
inna themselves when they’re writing ” I was laugh- 
ing over it all when I heard Gideon shouting — 

“Hi! Hi! Where bin ’e going? Pony’ll put fut in 
the ditch in a minute and break her leg and all the 
eggs m your basket into the bargain. What ails you, 
dreaming?’’ 

It was but just in time Pony and I got out of the 
ditch as best w r e might and went on, a bit crestfallen 
and very mim and careful. Then it came over me on 
a sudden that I should see the mind of Kester Woods- 
eaves in those letters as open as the sky. I should 
know him as if I lived along of him. For it inna by 
the deal that’s said, but by what’s in the things said, 
that you can know a person. Just as it inna the extra 
length or breadth of a gown that keeps you warm, 
but the quality of the stuff. In all he wrote, I’d find 
him. For you canna write a word, even, but you 
show yourself — in the word you choose, and the shape 



THE HIRING FAIR l6l 

of the letters, and whether you write tall or short, 
plain or flourished It's a game of 1 spy and there's 
nowhere to hide I thought how Mister Woodseaves 
would go tramping home, pleased to ha’ done a kind- 
ness, and very pleased to be unlocking his own door, 
lighting his own fire, and keeping himself to himself 
And all the while he'd have showed himself to me, let 
me into the house of his mind, bid me to sit down 
by the fire of his great kindness 

“He brought me to his noble house . 

His banner it was lo?>c ” 

“Prue ! ” shouted Gideon “Dang the girl! Oh, 
dang the girl! Pony’s got her foot m the reins and 
her teeth in the grass, and here Pve been obleeged to 
come back half a mile. Market day and all ! What- 
ever ails you? Be you sickening for summat? Dear 
to goodness ! Anybody ud think you were in love !” 

After that, pony and J were very careful. We kept 
our thoughts on the road and the market, and as you 
always come, at long last, where your thoughts are* 
so we came to Lullingford and found the Hiring Fair 
just beginning. 

The long row of young folks, and some not so 
young, who were there to be hired, began near our 
stall. Each one carried the sign of his trade or hers, 
A cook had a big wooden spoon, and if the young 
fellows were too gallus she'd smack them over the 
head with the flat of it Men that went with the teams 
had whips, hedgers a brummock, gardeners a spade. 
Cowmen carried a bright tin milk pail, thatchers a 
bundle of straw. A blacksmith wore a horseshoa 



1 62 


PRECIOUS BANE 


in his hat, and there were a tuthree of them, for a 
few big farms would club together and hire a black- 
smith by the year. Shepherds had a crook and bailiffs 
a lanthorn, to show how late they’d be out and about 
after robbers. Though, as Gideon said, having a 
lanthorn is no more promise that a man’ll so much as 
put his nose out of the bedclothes after dark than it’s 
promise when a chap agrees to the text, “Thou shalt 
not covet thy neighbour’s house,” of a Sunday that 
he wunna spend all the week trying to compass it. 
Which was just what Gideon did himself. 

There were tailors and weavers, wool carders and 
cobblers too, for the farmers clubbed together for 
them also The carders had a hank of coloured wool, 
and the tailors made great game running up and down 
the line of young women and threatening to cut their 
petticoats short. 

Jancis laughed with the rest, but I could see she’d 
been crying She looked a real picture in her print 
gown and bonnet, with the dairymaid’s milking stool. 
They were a tidy set of young women, the house- 
maids with broom on shoulder, the laundrymaids 
with dollies. It was no wonder that many a young 
farmer, who wanted neither cook nor dairymaid, 
should linger a bit, and that it should come into his 
mind that he wanted a wife 

“There’s Grimble,” said Gideon “I made sure he’d 
come, because of the bull-baiting He’s just got a new 
dog, I hear tell, as fierce as fire ” 

There was most always a bull-baiting after the 
May Fair, and it was a thing I couldna abide I 
looked where Gideon pointed and saw Mister Grimble, 



THE HIRING FAIR l6^ 

a man with a long nose that looked as if he poked it 
into everybody’s business and stirred up trouble. 

“Be that his missus ?” I said 

Gideon looked at the woman, like a gingerbread 
doll, flat and baked pale, with curranty eyes, and said 
it was. 

“Very near, and a driver/’ I said. 

“Well, Jancis’ll take a deal of driving The pretty 
ones be always the idle ones. And she’s used to being 
clemmed at home. She’ll see she dunna clem too 
much ” 

He seemed quite unconsarned. 

“She’d be better, a power, at a small place with nice 
folk that ud treat her kind,” I said. “What for do 
you want her to go to Gamble’s ?” 

“More money. They give a better wage than 
smaller folk We mun think of that first ” 

“The bane !” I whispered “The precious bane !” 

For indeed this talk of money was beginning to 
wear on me like a song sung over and over, and a 
song misliked to start with Gideon had spoken to 
Farmer Gamble about Jancis, so, as she never dared 
to go against his word, she beckoned to Beguildy and 
'said — 

“Mister Gamble’s missus’ll hire me, Feyther, if \oi/ 
please ” 

“Oh, ’er will, will ’er ? And what’ll you give me 
for the wench, for dree year?” 

“Eighteen pound ” 

“Make it twenty and you shall take her ” 

“Nay, nay, it’s too much.” 

“She can work if she’s a mind She’s strong. I 



164 


PRECIOUS BANE 


give you leave if you make it twenty, to drive if she 
wunna be led.” 

“If you lay finger on my girl it'll be the worse 
for ye,” said Gideon “And she’s to have the money, 
not you, Beguildy ” 

“Hearken, hearken! Did ever you hear the like! 
A fellow that was born under the threepenny planet 
and sleeps on face and'll come to be drowned!” 

Gideon fell into a sudden rage and gave him a great 
clout with the flat of his hand, and Beguildy screamed 
out — 

“I’ll pay ye * I'll pay ye for this * Curse ye * The 
very spit of your dad you be You owe me a crown,” 
he says, going by me on a blast of air. “And you 
canna leave me and mine alone Curse ye! In sow- 
ing and harvesting In meadows and housen. By 
fire and by water. A waxen man 1 I'll make a waxen 
man this night, and call it Sarn Slow, slow, it'll con- 
sume away — Sarn, the sin-eater!” 

Gideon looked at him, making no sign The people 
drew back a bit, fearing they knew not what Just 
then, elbowing through the crowd, came the young 
Equire, Mister Camperdine's nephew 

“I heard,” he says to Beguildy, “that Venus was 
come to the Hiring Fair My aunt wants a still-room 
maid, and I came to see if Venus — ” 

“If you mean Jancis Beguildy, sir,” says Gideon, 
speaking quick, “she's prenticed already ” 

“What, so soon?” 

“Ah, to a farmer a great way off.” 

He looked hard at Mister Camperdine, and Mister 
Camperdine looked hard back. 



THE HIRING FAIR I65 

“It’s a great disappointment,” says Mister Cam- 
perdine, “for my good aunt ” 

“Your lady-aunt, sir,” says Gideon very dry-like, 
“will soon find another maid Never faithful to one 
long, if I may make so bold, your lady-aunt inna, sir!” 

The young squire frowned, but looking around and 
seeing nobody but Jancis, short and plump, he sup- 
posed the one he was after had gone already, and so 
thought further arghng but waste of time He sighed 
and said to himself — 

“So Venus vanishes!” and went away. And ver j 
glad I was to see the last of him 

Beguildy and Jancis went to the inn with the 
Gambles to sign the prentice paper binding Jancis 
for three years. She was to drive back with them 
that night She was free till then, and Gideon said 
seeing she was going to work for Lullingford New 
House, she ought to have a look at it So off they 
went, while I minded the stall 

I’d all but done, for the place being fuller than 
ordinary, the things went off pretty quick. The lines 
of young people had shrunken till there were only a 
few left that were wanted by none. These were such 
as were known to be over-fond of the bottle or to 
have a base-born child, or to be incurables of some 
crippling disease, or not to know rightly what was 
their own and what was other people’s I used to 
wonder how they felt, poor folk, going jogging along 
in the evening, back where they came from I was 
glad I worked at whome, and had no need to go and 
be hired, for certain sure nobody ud have taken me, 
It was a bitter thought, that 



1 66 


PRECIOUS BANE 


The market-place was emptying fast, for the people 
were getting some refreshment afore the bull-baiting 
But Td still got some daffodillies to sell, and Gideon 
didna like anything to go back. So I sat still, in the 
quiet afternoon, looking down the empty street where 
the shadows of the lilacs and seynty trees lay very 
dark and pleasant I noticed that Missis Grimble 
was there too 

She was packing up, and as she put each pat of 
butter into the basket she gave it a look as much as 
to say that she’d give it a bit of her mind after, for 
not being sold. 

In a while she came across to me 

“You be sister to my new dairymaid’s young man, 
binna you?” 

“Ah.” 

“I’m in behopes they’re serious 

“Oh, ah 1 ” 

“That’s right I like my wenches to be walking out 
afore they come, and with a chap at a distance I’ve 
got sons, and it’s a deal safer. And so long as the 
chap's at a distance and canna be got at, it dunna 
hinder the work. Well, I’ll be going now. They 
loose the first dog on the bull in an hour, and I must 
get a cup of tea first I never can enjoy anything 
proper, nor take notice, if I’m clemmed Whether it’s 
a wedding or a confinement, a baiting or the Lord’s 
Supper, I canna truly enjoy it as it should be enjoyed 
unless I’ve got a pint or two of good strong tea inside 
me Well, good day. It’s a great affliction for ye ” 

She went back to her stall to gather her bas- 
ets 



THE HIRING FAIR l6) 

There now ! Never could I be left in peace. Never 
could I be let to get away from my misfortune. 
Here I sat, as peaceful as could be, till she must come 
up and say that “A great affliction.” But afore 
she said it I’d forgotten it, so I hadna got it I was 
out of the cage till she put me in again. I was vexed, 
and the tears stood m my eyes. 

Suddenly, along the quiet road, through the 
shadows, and through the mist on my own eyelashes, 
I saw somebody coming A man, it was And if 
there be any meaning in the word as I hanna thought 
on, let them that read put it in Let them put the 
strength and the power, the kindness and the patience, 
the sternness and the stately righteousness of all good 
men into that word, and let him wear it. For it was 
himself, Kester Woodseaves, the maister 

He came along without haste, as if he had some 
great business to attend I saw that he was in his 
best — the black beaver hat, green coat, flowered 
weskit, and the Wellington boots 

“Weaver, weaver 1 ” called Missis Gamble. 
“When’ll you work for me next?” 

He looked up, and came our way. 

What did I do, I, that knew his smile was my 
summer? Why, I got up so hasty that I upset the 
daffodillies I left all our baskets and butter-cloths, 
nd the jam-pots for flowers, and I ran from the 
place as if summat was after me But, being that the 
market was at the end of the road, and only ope 
in front, there was nowhere for me to go but into 
the market-keeper’s office, which was a dark room at 
the back of the maiket, nd had a small window with 



168 


PRECIOUS BANE 


no glass, looking on the stalls So I couldna help 
but hear all they said. 

“Why, lookye !” Missis Grimble screamed out like a 
cackling hen, “her's fled away as if you were the murrain 
or the Lord or the bailiffs What ails the wench? 
Mostly I see 'em run to and not from when a young 
chap comes along ” 

“Who be she?” asked Kesten 

He had ever a very out-of-the-ornary voice It was 
like as if, when he spoke, the sound of the speaking 
made the world new for itself, not caring about the 
old world. It was like a wide, blossomy thorn-tree on 
a sweltering day in early June. You could sit down 
under it and rest you. And it was like the still hearth- 
fire on a winter night, when wild Edric's out in the 
forest, and the curtains be close, candles snuffed, all 
fast, and the master of the house raught whome. 

“Who be she?” he says And even though it be 
only a passing thought and three words. I’m a flower 
that knows the sun. 

“Why, her be Sana's sister from away yonder at 
the mere. Prue Sarn The woman with the hare- 
shotten lip. A very queer creature. But it makes 
'em queer, you mind, to be born the like of that 
Some say she's a bit of a witch.” 

He said nought, but he went across and picked up 
my flowers, setting them m the jam-pots man's fash- 
ion, a bit clumsy and all thumbs, enough to make you 
cry with love. I could see from the dark at the back 
of the office. 

“A very neat, tidy figure she's got,” he said And 
m a minute I knew that he knew I'd heard, and so 



THE HIRING FAX 


169 


would ease the wound. Oh, most kind maister, the 
very marrow of Him that loved the world so dear ! 

“Be you going to the baiting, Mister Woodseaves?” 
asked Missis Grimble 

“Why, yes and no to that ” 

“Eh?” 

“You’ll see m good time, Missis Grimble ” 

With that he went on his way And what did I do? 
I did a thing I never thought to do for any man, so 
forrard it was I came out of the dark room, straight 
into the sunlight, and step by step along the road I 
followed him, as if I’d no bashfulness at all, such as 
every girl should have. I kept a long way back, for 
fear he might turn about and see me, but I never let 
him out of my sight It seemed as if I couldna. I 
was drawn on and on. If I lost sight of his green coat 
round a turn of the road, I was all distraught till I’d 
got sight of it again. 

The bull-ring was well beyond the town, in a green 
meadow where a brook ran. And though if you’d 
gone a-walking in that green meadow any other day 
in the year, to gather lilies or forget-me-nots, or to 
walk beside the water, folk would have thought it 
a soft thing to do, it was all right and proper to-day, 
because they were going to kill a creature theie. 

The people m the road never noticed me, in my 
plain black, with my face hid in my bonnet From a 
good way off I could see the ring, and the bright 
colours of the gowns and coats all jumbled together, 
and a deal of sad-colour from the coats of the working 
men who could seldom afford a best coat save the 
funeral coat of the family I could see the bull a 



PRECIOUS BANE 


tyo 

little white one, tied to a staple in the wall of the 
bull-ring, which was a semicircle built of rough grey 
stones The bright yellow sunshine held them all, as 
if they were bees in the mid of the honeycombs, and 
the blue air, the brown water, the green meadow were 
all so fair, I could not believe blood must be shed on 
such a day. I wonder to myself, times, if it was fair, 
clear weather on Golgotha when Mary looked up at 
the cross, and whether there was some small bird 
singing, and the bees busy in the clover. Ah! I 
think it was glass-clear weather, and bright. For no 
bitter lacked in that cup, and surely one of the bitter- 
est things is to see the cruelty of man on some fair 
morning with blessing in it 



chapter two: The Baiting 


A S I came nearer I saw that, as the custom was, not 
only all the women of Lullmgford were there, 
but all the children as well I thought it shame to 
bring these poor things, that would soon enough 
know the evil of the world, to see the dogs torn to 
ribbons and the hapless beast killed. I said so after 
to Gideon, but he thought nothing of it. 

“Why, you'd make 'em as soft as ’ool,” he said. 
“They mun be brave and well-plucked.” 

I said I couldna see that it -was soft not to like tc 
see a cruel deed, and that it seemed to me to be braver 
not to like seeing another’s pain. 

“Well, well, we canna make the world, for it’s made 
already,” says Gideon. 

There it all was, then, the crowd, the shouting and 
betting, the yapping and snarling of the dogs, people 
elbowing and pushing, men crying hot taters and 
chestnuts, apples, spiced ale, and gingerbread, children 
in their white pinnies watching the bull, very skeered, 
for it was grumbling to itself. Poor thing, it was 
thinking of its own big blackberry pasture at the back 
of Callard’s Dingle, I make no doubt. It hated neither 
men nor dogs, and had no grudge against any if only 
it could be back there, roving the meadows in the dew. 
There they all were, and there was Kester. I lost 
sight of him in the crowd, and hastened my steps, with 

171 



PRECIOUS BANE 


i wonder in my heart the while what he could be doing 
in such a place. For I thought him to be a different 
kind of man from all these. Yet such faith I had m 
him that I was sure, if he was here, that he was here 
for good. And something drove me on, so that I must 
seek him in the crowd, and keep nigh him, as if I was 
his angel for that day A poor angel, but God minds 
not much, I think, what like His angels be, so that they 
do His work proper. The shepherd’s collie that runs 
home to warn the missus that her man has fallen 
down the rock, is his angel sure enough, though he 
may be a mongrel of the very worst, with ears as fiat 
as a spaniel. 

Blindly and without reason, like the shepherd’s dog, 
I kept close to Kester Woodseaves, yet not so close 
that he might see me. So it was that I heard all he 
said to the men who stood round about the ring with 
their dogs, a bit apart from the crowd. And though 
they were men of my own countryside, and some of 
them known to me, yet I must say that there were 
among them a tuthree very evil faces. The dogs were 
fierce and ugly, many of ’em with great jowls, snarling 
and slavering and showing the red of their eyes. Yet 
if I had been bound to choose between men and dogs, 
I’d have chosen the dogs. Mostly they were terriers, 
but there were a good few bulldogs, and of these 
Grimble’s new one was far the worst, with a grin that 
sent me cold. There were one or two with a lot of 
mastiff in them, and there were a mort of mongrels. 

The men all turned towards Kester when he came 
up, and Farmer Huglet, the chief of them, called 
out — 



TH E BAITING 


173 


^Where’s your dawg?” 

Mister Huglet was a great raw-looking man who 
seemed as if he’d come together accidental and was 
made up of two or three other people’s bodies. He 
was a giant, very nearly, and clumsy, with tremendous 
long arms, and so big round the middle that tailors 
who brought their own stuff always charged extra for 
his clothes. He’d got a mouth like a frog, and a round 
red snub nose, and such little eyes that they were lost in 
the mountains of flesh that made up his face. When- 
ever he couldna understand anything, he laughed, and 
his laugh was enough to frighten you. It came pretty 
often too. Grimble was hand-in-glove with him, and 
while Huglet stuck his red snub nose in the air, 
Grimble kept his long pale one down, so between them 
they didna miss much They’d each got two dogs. 

“Why, it’s weaver,” says Grimble. “Dunna you 
know weaver, Huglet?” 

“Why, no, we hanna crossed paths afore. My 
brother-law weaves for me, you mind. Well, weaver* 
where’s your dawg?” 

“I’ve got none.” 

“No dawg? Stand aside, then.” 

But he stood where he was It so happed that htf 
was about at the mid of the half-moon of grey stone 
that made the bull-ring, and the men with the dogs 
fell away a bit on either hand, so he was alone. 
Standing there so slim and straight in his green coat, 
with the airs blowing his hair a bit, so that a lock of it 
fell o’er his brow, his hat being under arm, he seemed 
to have nought to do with any there, but to be a part 
of the fair meadow, that matched his coat. He wore 



1/4 


PRECIOUS BANE 


no beard nor whiskers, so you could see the shape and 
colour and the lines of all his face, which seemed to 
me to be a face you could never tire of looking on. 
Times I wonder if heaven will be thus, a long gazing 
on a face you canna tire of, but must ever have one 
more glimpse. He had a kind of arrowy look, so that 
though Huglet towered over him, he seemed to tower 
over Huglet. He looked round about and said — 

“Chaps, I’ve come to ask ye to stop this.” 

There was a long, bepuzzled silence. Then Huglet 
laughed and slapped his thigh, and roared again. 
Grimble looked at his boots and gave a snigger. 

“Well, that’s a good un!” shouted Huglet “Stop 
the bull-baiting, oot, young fellow?” 

“Ah. I’d lief stop it ” 

“And what for would you stop it, dear ’eart?” asked 
Grimble in a soft, sing-song voice. 

“Stop it?” roars Huglet, “he canna stop it.” 

“I’d lief it was stopped over all England.” 

“You’d lief a deal, young man. Why, I tell ye 
there's bin bull-baiting in England ever since it was 
England! Take away the good old sport and it 
wouldna be England !” 

All this he said in the same loud roaring voice. 

“I asked ye, what for would ye stop it?” repeated 
Grimble, soft and obstinate. 

“Because it’s a cruel, miserable business.” 

“It inna cruel. The dawgs like it They enjoy it. 
And the bull likes it right well ” 

Mister Grimble looked down at the trampled grass 
for all the world as if he was reading the words 
there. 



THE BAITING 


17 


“What’s it matter if they enjoy it or not? I enjo^ 
it!” says Huglet “That’s enough, inna it?” 

The other men drew round For though it was the 
ordinary thing to hear Mister Huglet shouting fit to 
burst, it was out of the common to hear him shouting 
so long at one person. When Huglet shouted like he 
was doing now, folk said that the person he was shout- 
ing at always gave m and went away quiet 

“What be trouble?” asked Mister Callard, the 
owner of the bull. Mister Huglet turned round and 
spluttered out — 

“This here borsted fellow wants to stop the baiting> 
The baiting, mind, as we all come a many wearv mile 
to see ” 

“Rising up a great while afore day,” puts in Mistet 
Grimble 

“Dear now ! And missus and me at such trouble to 
bring the beast along bright and early Whatever ails 
the mon?” 

He looked at Kester as the apothecary will look at 
a man a long while sick 

“Ah,” says the landlord of the Mug of Cider , “I’ve 
heard tell of folks as wanted to stop the long kneeling. 
I’ve even heard of a tuthree as wanted to stop wars 
and rumours of wars, but bull-baiting? Never in life! 
Whoever, save a few fratchety parsons, did ever want 
to stop a baiting?” 

“He must be going a bit simple, poor fellow,” says 
Grimble “Feel well, weaver?” 

The miller came up and had a look, shook his head, 
and went away, which was a great deal for the mille* 
to do. 



*76 


•* EECIOUS BANE 


“But what for do ye want to stop it, like?” says 
Mister Callard, very puzzled 

“I’ve told ’em why Never mind all that Look ye. 
Mister Callard, ool ye sell the bull to me?” 

“Sell un?” 

“Ah, I wunna argle and bargle over the price.” 

“But it wouldna be worth my while I’ll get more, 
a power, by letnng un fight Win, and I’ll be a rich 
mon Lose, and I get best butcher’s price from the 
ring owners, seesta?” 

“What ud you make if he won?” 

“Twenty pound ” 

“I’ll give you twenty pound, and you can take the 
beast away ” 

“God bless me f” says Mister Callard “Oh, God 
bless me, I’m sure ” 

He stared at Kester as if he was spirit-struck. 

“Bargain?” says Kester. 

Missis Callard, who never spoke but after Callard 
spoke, and then said the same thing, and never did 
o ght but what she was told to do, came up all in a 
dusker, leading the bull. 

“Take the gentleman’s offer, Father! Take it, my 
dear!” she said, all out of breath “Take the twenty 
pound and us’ll lead the darling whome ” 

Callard was so astounded at her daring to speak 
that he could only keep on saying — 

“God bless me!” 

“God bless ye, is it?” says Huglet, beginning to roar 
again “I’ll give ye God bless ye if you do any such 
thing, Callard. Dang me f Spoil all our sport for 
twenty pound f I’ll lam ye! And you too. young m P 



THE BAITING 


177 


“Oh, but he mun be worse than sawft or simple, he 
mun be stark raving mad to offer twenty pound for 
the little beast and then give back what he's bought,” 
says Grimble. “Oh, I could cry! Yet the poor chap 
was all right Monday was a fortnit, weaving for us 
as nice as nice But he’s gone wrong in the yead since, 
surely to goodness! Oh, dear me!” 

He wiped his face and seemed quite taken-to. 

Kester pulled out his wallet and offered Callard the 
money It was pretty well all his uncle left him, I 
doubt 

By this, Missis Callard had called all the children to 
her, for they had five children as well as the baby, and 
she whispered ’em, and all of a sudden they cried out 
together, “Take it, Feyther! Take it, honoured Fey 
ther f We beseech thee to hear us 1 ” 

At the surprise of that, Mister Callard seemed to 
be quite moithered, and he reached out his hand to 
Kester for the money. But Mister Huglet struck it 
down. 

“I wunna be robbed of my sport!” he said “Dunna 
you dare take it, Callard. We want our sport, I telJ 
ye!” 

All the men with dogs looked black and mut 
tered — 

“Ah, that’s righteous! That’s gospel! We want 
ur sport!” 

“Chaps,” says Kester, very pleading, “it be pity off 
so fine a day to set one poor creature to tear another. 
Devil’s work, it be. If it’s fighting you want, why 
canna you wrostle, or box man to man ? Look ye! 
To make a bit of sport. I’ll take any six of ye on, one* 



1 78 


PRECIOUS BANE 


after other, to wrostle The one that beats me by 
most shall take my coat, and the next shall take my hat 
and weskit Now then 1 ” 

Nobody said anything, only they shuffled a bit, and 
looked here and there. Everybody seemed to know 
that Kester was a very good wrostler, and nobody 
seemed to take to the job Mister Grimble looked at 
Kester as if he hated him. And it was plain, by what 
came next, that he did, in very truth. For now, hav- 
ing made up his mind not to play second any more to 
Mister Huglet, he up and said — 

“The young man speaks well Now, Ell fall in with 
all he says and agree to the stopping of the baiting this 
day, on one condition ” 

“Out with it,” says Kester. 

“That you take on the dawgs yerself ” 

Mister Grimble gave a spiteful cackling laugh, and 
Mister Huglet roared agen 

“Got ye there, me lad he shouted And Grimble 
said — 

“You may love the dumb creatures ooth yer purse, 
but ye wunna go so far as to love em ooth yer own 
blood!” 

“Go on with the baiting!” orders Mister Huglet 
“Tie the beast up agen,” says Mister Callard to his 
missus, who was standing by, eager to hand it over to 
Kester, so as he could give it back as he said. 

“Whose dawg drew first?” 

Mister Huglet took no more notice of Kester, but 
went on with the arrangements 

“Mister Towler’s dawg drew first, and Mug o* 
Cider second,” said one of the owners of the bull-ring. 



THE BAITING 


179 


“Come forrard, Towler ” 

Kester stood very still, eyeing Mister Grimble till 
he got quite put about For he didna seem to want to 
meet Kester’s eye 

“That ud be the best bit of sport ever >ou had, eh, 
Mister Grimble says Kester at last. “To see a man 
baited like a bull.” 

“Why, nobody ud be such a fool.” 

Kester looked round 

“Chaps!” he says, “if so be as I agree to Mister 
Grimble’s plan and take on the dogs one by one, not 
to kill ’em, but to put ’em on chain with nought but 
my bare hands, and they as savage as you like, if I 
do this at my own risk, will ye give it me m writing as 
there wunna be another baiting in Lullingford for ten 
years? And if I fail to put any dog on chain, I’ve lost 
and the baiting goes on ” 

Everybody’s tongue was loosed at that 

“God bless me!” 

“Dear to goodness !” 

“Domm it»” 

“Well, that beats all, dang it!” 

“Daze my ’ouns 1 ” 

There was a regular clack of voices. 

One or two called out that they wouldna agree to it. 
But mostly they were very curious to see what would 
come of it, and as it was known that the parson didna 
like the baitings and had been werriting the squire to 
put a stop to them, everybody thought they might be 
stopped soon anyway, and so they might as well have 
the fun, for this was a chance of rare sport, and the 
like of it had never been seen in the place 



l8o PRECIOUS BANE 

When Mister Huglet could speak for laughing, hs 
explained to all the people what was doing 

"Hands up for it!” he called out. 

All but about a dozen held up their hands. 

"Done!” says Mister Huglet. "And done for , my 
fine feller!” 

I caught hold of Miller’s Tim and told him to go to 
Kester and whisper as Grimble’s dog was a new one, 
and extra bad in temper. But indeed I felt that 
neither this nor anything was any manner of use, and 
I couldna think of ought to do. But one thing I was 
determined on. I’d keep nigh him, and when he was 
down I’d rush in and drag him away, and if Grimble 
interfered it ud be the worse for un There’s none so 
fierce as a loving woman, and it always seemed a 
strange thing to me that the Mother of Jesus could 
keep her hands off the centurion, and it could only 
have been because her Son had given orders afore. 
But indeed if it had been me, I think I should have 
forgot the orders. 

Tim came running back, and I saw those strong 
blue eyes follow and settle on me for a breath. Then 

hid behind Missis Callard. 

"He knowed it,” says Tim "But obleeged ail the 

me.” 

I went to the refreshment booth and stole the carv- 
ing-knife. But almost afore it was hidden under my 
flounced skirt I saw that there was to be no need of 
it, anyway for a while. There was to be summat more 
like a miracle than anything I’ve seen afore This 
was the way of it 

“Go to the mid of the wall,” says Huglet, “an 



THE BAITING l8l 

fasten the dawgs to the bull chain. And if you fasten 
either of mine, I’ll give ye five shilling, me lad 1 Oh, 
I could bust a-laughm g to see anybody be such a fool P 

“Mister Towler’s dawg!” says the head of the ring. 

“Ready P 

They loosed Towler’s terrier, the savagest little 
beast in the place. 

“At ’im! Bite ’im!” shouts Towler, and I was like 
to faint. And then it came to pass. 

Kester stepped forward. 

“Well, Bingo t” he says. “Good dog!” 

Bingo stopped, looked at Towler as much as to say 
he’d made a mistake, and ran to Kester as pleased as 
Punch, wagging tail and fawning round. 

“We be friends, binna we?” says Kester. 

Towler gave a curse, and Huglet looked as black as 
night. But nobody could say it wunna fair and 
square, and some of the better sort laughed and said, 
“Good for you, lad!” 

It was the same with the Mug o' Cider dog, and the 
next. As the owners came up to fetch them when 
they were on the chain, they looked very old-fashioned 
and taken aback. 

Kester laughed. 

“I like a dog,” he says. “Dumb things be my fancy 
You couldna know it, but so it is, and I can only see 
one dog here as inna friend to me, being new-come to 
these parts ” 

“Ah,” says Grimble, “you wunna play yer May- 
games with Toby. Indeed to goodness, if you get off 
with your life you’ll do well ” 

All m a minute I thought of a better thing than the 



1 82 


PRECIOUS BANE 


carving-knife, though I kept that in case of need I’d 
run to the town for the apothecary, there being no 
doctor in the place, to have him there in case of harm. 
There were a sight more dogs yet, for they wouldna 
let him off any There met be time if I was quick 
So, with the carving-knife still under my dress, I 
edged out of the crowd, got into the road and ran for 
dear life. But afore I went, I took one look at him I 
did love, since if I wasna quick enough I might never 
see him alive again 

He was laughing, and Huglet was leading one of 
his dogs away Though Kester didna weave for 
Huglet, he’d made friends with his dogs on market 
days, outside the Mug o’ Cider, seemingly. He’d such 
a way with animals that a tuthree minutes was enough, 
and they were friends to him for ever 

And as I looked back, it seemed to me, though I 
told myself it must be fancy, that those eyes, so live 
and br.ght, dwelt on me, and smiled at me, friended 
me and pled with me, being as are the eyes of a man 
when he looks long upon his dear acquaintance, who 
has given her peace for his, her soul to his keeping, 
and her body for his joy. 

But as I ran I said to myself — 

“Nay, Prue Sarn, you be nought but his angel, and 
a poor daggly sort of angel, too ” 

And all the blue bird s eye in the hedge banks went 
into a mist of tears as I ran, and looked no more like 
flowers, but like a blue tide of sorrow to drown me. 



CHAPTER THREE! 

“The Best Tall Script , Flourished' H 

T MAY say I went over the distance to the town 
quicker than it’s been done this long while. I hid 
the carving-knife in the hedge, for fear of tripping 
over it The apothecary's was open, as I thought, for 
he was churchwarden, and couldna go agen the par- 
son. I never saw the big green and red bottles look 
so beautiful, as if they were full of water from Para- 
dise river. Inside there was a pleasant dusk, for the 
little window was so close-set with liniments and 
medicines, drenches for horses, simples for cows, 
plaisters, cordials, and bunches of yarbs that you 
couldna see at all. It smelt very pleasantly of pepper- 
mint, yarbs and soap, and the apothecary looked at 
me kindly over his spectacles and asked what the 
matter was 

“Why, sir, it's murder, pretty nigh/' I says. “I do 
beseech you to shut up the shop and come, or such a 
man as this town never saw afore, nor will again, 
will be done to death/' 

He pulled on his boots, good man, at that. 

“What remedies must I bring?" he says. “You 
can tell me the rest as we run." 

So I told him summat for dog-bites and summat 
to bring a man round when he was near death. In 
a minute he clapped his hat on, and off we went 

183 



184 PRECIOUS BANE 

“Take a sup of brandy,” he says. “You’re nigh 
done ” 

But I told him, no, only if I fell behind he must 
hasten on to the bull-ring 

I fell back just afore we got to the carving-knife, 
and caught up again at the field gate. As we came 
in I could see an awful struggle going on, for we were 
only just in time. He’d finished but for Grimble’s 
dog 

As we came up there was a roar. He’d got the dog 
chained. Then there was another roar, and I saw 
(oh, my dear love!) that the dog had got him by the 
throat. 

I caught Grimble’s shoulder. 

“Take yer dog off!” I said. 

Grimble never stirred. 

A second of that grip and he as I loved so dear ud 
be dead and cold. 

I rushed forrard, I, that had never wilfully hurt 
any living creature, and as the great beast stood reared 
with his teeth in my maister’s throat, I ran him 
through the heart. 

The blood spurted, and the heavy body fell down 
all of a heap, and Kester with it. 

I pulled him away and dragged the dog’s jaws 
apart There seemed to be no life in Kester. 

“Water!” I says to Huglet, who chanced to be 
nighest. 

“Fetch water, you murderer! Brandy, Mister 
Camlet, please!” 

He stooped over Kester. 

“I mun burn the bite,” he said. “Best d<? it 



"THE BEST TALL SCRIPT 7 ' 185 

afore we bring him round. But how to heat the 
iron ?" 

I stood up. I cared for nobody. They couldna 
have been more feared if I'd been a savage queen 

“Six men pick up sticks !" I says. “And quick about 
it ! And you, Grimble, find flint and tinder/' 

“I hanna got one," he muttered. 

“Find one!" I screamed like a wild thing, holding 
up the knife. “Find one, or — " 

The fire was blazing quicker than it takes to tell 
it. We poured a little brandy down Kester’s throat, 
to keep the spark of life in, then Mister Camlet burnt 
the bite, and Kester awoke with a shout of agony, for 
being m a dead swound he hadna been ready for the 
pain. 

“There, there, my dear!" I says. For the shriek 
went through my heart. “There, there. It be done 
now! None shall touch you now." 

Mister Camlet bound him up, and I washed his face 
with cold water and gave him more brandy. 

“Not a deep wound," says Mister Camlet. “We 
were only just in time, though." 

“We couldna help but be m time," I says, “I be 
his angel for to-day/* 

And with that the green field swam up afore me 
and I swounded clean away. When I came to myself 
there were Gideon and Jancis sitting by me on the 
grass, and all the folks were gone. 

“Where be he?" I says 

“Who? Weaver ?" says Jancis “He be all right 
and cared for. They've took him back to Lullingford, 
and Missis Callard'll stop with him." 



1 86 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“She’s mighty pleased with the little hull,” said 
Gideon “You saved that chap’s life, and no mistake, 
Prue. I never saw the like ! We were just coming in at 
the field gate, and I looked across and saw you. ‘By 
gum !’ I says. And that was all I did say. I ran, and 
Jancis ran, but you’d done for the owd dog afore we 
could come at you. Y'ou take the medal, Prue!” 

“You canna ride home, Prue Shall I run and ask 
Miller to take her, Sam? And couldna I come back 
and give her a hand with the work for a day or 
two 

“You can ask Miller and welcome It’s a good 
thought But as for coming back, you know very 
well you’re Gamble's vessel-maid now, till three 
years ” 

“I didna want to be. It’s you and Feyther made 
me.” 

“Well, but you’ve seen the house, hanna you? 
You’ll be working for that and the ’unt Ball and the 
silver plate.” 

“Ah. I’ve seen the house, and I think it looks a 
dark, bitter old place, for all it’s new, and I’d liefer 
never go to no ’unt Ball than lead the life of a driven 
slave.” 

She was crying, but it made no manner of difference 
to Gideon. 

“You’ve got to go to Grimble’s and you’ve got to 
go to the ’unt Ball in good time, so why make such 
a dmg-dong?” 

“But why must I, Sam ?” 

“Because my mind’s set ” 

It was almost as if he said, “Because I’m in the 



THE BEST TALL SCRIPT 


J 3 


t ( 


IS? 


stocks ” As if his maid called him to come maying, 
but, feet and hands, he was fast bound* 

When she was gone, they gave me a sup of tea at 
the Mug o’ Cider , for I was all of a tremble still, and 
then Miller helped me up into the gig, and the old 
coach horse, that had known the merry sound of the 
horn tooting, and the sudden light and commotion at 
the turnpikes, when they rushed out in the dead dark 
to open, laboured into a trot. For indeed he seemed 
much of Missis Miller’s mind, caring not if he never 
saw home again Missis Miller had nought to say. 
Miller as usual had nought also, and Polly was asleep. 
After a while Missis Miller and Tim went to sleep too. 
We drove on sadly in the chilly evening. It was dusk, 
and then it was dark. Gideon was far ahead, for 
Bendigo was a good trotter, though aged The mill 
pony, tied to the back of the gig, clopped onwards 
with a sorrowful sound. 

It suited me, the quiet and the melancholy, for I was 
sad and quiet too. He that I loved was hurt, and I 
couldna get to him. There he lay, as weak as a babe, 
and only Missis Callard to tend him I forgot that 
she, having six, was well knowledged in tending help- 
less folk, for it is the way of lovers to think that none 
can bless or succour their love but their own selves. 
And there is a touch of truth in it, maybe more than a 
touch. We went on and on, through country that 
was neither hilly nor flat, in a night neither dark nor 
gleamy, feeling neither glad nor sorry. I thought we 
were like people bound for some place beyond the 
world that was neither hell nor heaven. Our six 
heads, counting the nag’s, all nid-nodded, and I think 



1 88 


PRECIOUS BANE 


we were all asleep, even the old coach horse, when 
the miller spoke, out of his sleep, I do believe 

“I canna abide 'em,” he said, with a nod toerts his 
wife and children “I wish they were kit-cats, to 
drown m mill-pond I wish the world and all was a 
kit-cat.” 

He said no more It was like when they say the creed, 
solemn and choppy That was all the miller ever said 
to me, and I do think he said it m his sleep On we 
went, till we came to the dark mill, the soundless 
water, like soft black crape. The others got out and 
untied the pony, and Miller drove me back to Sarn 
The night was full of the smell of water and moss, 
with a drift of primrose scent now and again. I 
thought of the weaver's house, that seemed built of a 
spell, and him, lying there in the kitchen with the 
loom, his face barred with the shadow of it, cast by the 
rushlight, his hair all tousled and damp with the sweat 
of pain. 

“If Missis Callard spoke unkind to him, I could 
slap her babby,' I thought But I knew she wouldna. 
She was a good soul, though I always thought she 
must have had a mind hke a shell, hollow, to echo 
other people as she did. 

When we came to our place, there was Mother on 
the door-sill, very consarned. She said what nobody 
else had, and what I’d never thought of 

“You met ha’ been killed, Prue!” 

She sat down and began to cry, so I had to laugh 
at her and ask for summat to eat, to show I was alive 
all right So then she got me such a meal as never 
was, though she should by rights have been asleep 



"the best tall script" 189 

hours Seemingly Gideon had told her some sort of 
tale, but she must know more. She wasna to be 
satisfied, but kept on wanting more. She put on her 
spectacles and looked at me very attentive, sitting 
there in the big oak chair. I was quite put-about with 
her staring so, with that still look of a sitting bird 
when somebody comes and spies at her, and she never 
winks nor flinches, but just looks back with sharp 
brown eyes, as much as to say, 'Til stand by what’s 
mine ” Mother seemed to be looking past me at 
summat that threatened me. Maybe it was my Fate, 
as she thought it to be. It was summat that threatened 
to do me harm, I’m sure, for after a bit Mother looked 
very defiant and sat up ever so straight and said — 
"We’ll have the weaver” 

Just as if somebody forbad her to have him 
She said nought of all I’d told her, never a word 
about it being a foolish or forrard thing to save a 
strange young man’s life without with your leave or 
by your leave. She only kept on giving little nods 
now and again, and saying — 

"Ah Come summer, we’ll have weaver.” 

Then she said she’d go to bed now, and I went and 
wrote in my book. 

There was no change in our lives, only it was 
quieter without Jancis coming in of a Sunday. The 
Stone House seemed very lonesome lacking her, and 
Missis Beguildy not half the woman she had been. 
She seemed to cling to me, and kept talking of the 
little ways and sayings of Jancis as if she was dead 
This made Beguildy very angry, for in truth he was 
sorry Jancis was gone, not only because of the young 



190 PRECIOUS BANE 

squire, but because in her unhandy way she'd got 
through a good bit of work. He’d say, “Now, hush 
thy noise, woman The wench’ll be back in no time, 
with twenty pound in hand, dear me. Now, dunna 
go to talk of her as if she was dead, fool 1 A game- 
some lusty young woman the like of that! Many's 
the golden pound her'll put in our pockets, when she's 
learnt her duty, and given over hankering after a man 
as was born under the threepenny planet, and 'll come 
to be drowned No offence meant, Prue, and none 
taken I’m in behopes. You ploughed the gorsty bit 
right tidy, Prue, and us’ll do word of four synnables 
this day, if you’ve a mind.” 

Oh, there’s no doubt Beguildy was a very queer old 
man I was used to think if he'd had a good educa- 
tion he met have been one of these great men we all 
think so much of. A great scholar he could have been, 
or a music-man, or a rhymer, or a preacher. And 
maybe if all of his mind had been used proper, he 
wouldna have brought ruination on hisself as he did. 
Ah! And on more than hisself. But that we cannot 
know. We are His mommets that made us, I do 
think. He takes us from the box, whiles, and saith, 
“Dance now !” or maybe it must bow, or wave a hand 
or fall down in a swound Then He puts it back in 
box, for the part is played. It may be a Mumming, 
or a Christmas or Easter play, or a tragedy. That 
is as He pleases The play is of His making. So 
the evil mommets do His will as well as the good, 
since they act the part set for them How would it 
be if the play came to the hour when the villainous 
man must do evilly, and see! he is on his knee-bones 



* * T H E BEST TALE SCRIPT** 19I 

at his prayers. Then the play would be in very poor 
case There was a raommet once called Judas, and if 
he had started away from his set part in fear, we 
should none of us have been saved Which is all a 
very strange mystery, and so we must leave it But 
it being so, I think we do wrongly to blame ill-doers 
too hardly. It is a dreadful fate to be obleeged to 
act in a curst ugly way, when surely none would 
choose it “Needs be that offences come ” How 
should Gabriel show his skill with a two-edged sword 
if Lucifer wouldna fight? “But woe be to him by 
whom they come.** Ah! So if the play has a murder 
in it, or if a good maid is brought to shame, a 
mommet must be found to do the bad work, though 
very like, if they could choose, never a one but would 
say, “Not me, Maister!** Only they know nought. 
For I think we be not very different from the beasts, 
that work deathly harms in the dark of their minds, 
knowing nothing, weltering in blood, crouching and 
springing on their prey, with a sound of shrieks m 
the night, and yet all the while as innicent as a babe. 
And I think we be not very much other than the 
storms that raven in the forest, and the hungry fire 
that licks up lives in a moment, and the lips of the 
water, sucking in our kin. It is all in the Play. But 
if we be chosen for a pleasant, merry part, how thank- 
ful we ought to be, giving great praise, and helping 
those less fortunate, and even being grateful to that 
poor mommet which goeth about night and day to 
work our destruction For it might have been the 
other way 

So, in spite of all, I was always sorry for Be- 



192 


PRECIOUS BANE 


guildy, though, dear knows, he was the villain in our 
story. 

We had a very middling crop that summer, both of 
grass and gram Our lives went to the same tune, 
with no change, saving that Mother was as good as 
her word and did send for Kester 

I thought she seemed very busy all that June, spin- 
ning as if it was ever so, till even Gideon gave a word 
of praise Then one day she said — 

“There's such a deal spun, I shall be obleeged to 
send for Weaver " 

But I was settled in my mind not to see him, so 
the day he was coming, about the end of hay harvest, 
I took the brummock and went hedging m the far 
fields where none would find me. 

‘Tm going hedging, Mother," I says, ‘Til take 
some bread and cheese. Can you see to the young 
turkeys and tell Gideon he must make shift with the 
milking, for I shanna be back till dark ” 

What must she do but begin to wring her hands 
and keep on saying under breath — 

“Oh, the pity, the pity, to be so curst!" 

But go I did. And when I raught home, there m 
my attic were the bits of wool and thread he'd left, 
and a very pleasant smell of tobacco For he liked 
to smoke a bit while he worked. And just by the 
corner of the loom what should I find but a blue-and- 
white handkerchief, which I very dishonestly did put 
in my locker, and turned the key with great satisfac- 
tion. I said to myself m a kind of gloating way that 
some day I'd launder it, and roll it up with a bit of 
lavender, and send it back. But not yet 



t ( 


THE BEST TALE SCRIPT 


193 


9~ > 


Mother was full of tales about the weaver Oh, 
he was such a kind man, and strong, and so con- 
siderate 1 I thought I could have told her that Like 
a son to her, he'd been, she said I should ha' seen 
him a-sittmg on the settle at his tea. I dare say, I 
thought, and lose my heart worse than ever f 
“Wanted to know if I’d any other family besides 
Sam,” she said “So I told un ” 

“Oh, Mother, what did you tell him?” I said 
“I told un I'd got the best girl m the 'orld, and a 
good daughter to me, and very jimp and slender, 
with a long, silky plait to the knees, and dark, meltin' 
eyes, and such pleasant ways, merry and mocking and 
pitiful Ah' I told un f Proper, I did! And I told 
un you could do the tall script and the short, and that 
Beguildy was learning you to read, and that you could 
do words of four synnables now ” 

“Dear to goodness, Mother,” I said, “what a tale 
you made out I” 

“No tale, my dear, for 'tis the truth ” 

“Did you say ought of Gideon's letters? I mean, 
did you say I wrote 'em?” 

“Why, no, my dear. Sarn met not ha' liked it, nor 
Jancis, nor you.” 

“No. You've got a lot of sense, Mother ” 

“It was always said in our family as I had, my 
dear ” 

“So Weaver thinks we’re a very well educated 
family, I make no doubt, Mother, and he'll take it for 
gospel that Gideon writes the letters ” 

After, when I was helping her to bed, I took 
courage to sav — 



*94 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“Did you tell Weaver I was hare-shotten ?” 

“No, no, my dear! What for should I do that?” 
“Only he met be thinking of me a bit, seeing you 
said such things, and then if he met me ever — ” 
“Well, my dear, if he met you, and he’s the man I 
think him, he’d be bound to like you right well,” says 
Mother roundly 

When I’d tucked her in, she catched my hand 
“Prue, should you care if he’d got but one leg, or 
one arm, or was all pitted with the smallpox?” 

“Care, Mother?” I cried out all in a minute and 
never thinking, “of course J shouldna care I should 
love un the more for it!” 

“I knowed you did, my dear,” says Mother, very 
contented “I knowed you loved the man And I’m 
right glad of it. Now, dunna you hide from him, 
Prue. Be well plucked and risk all, like a good player 
in the game of Costly Colours ” 

“No, no! Never will I. Oh, Mother, it was 
unkind in you to catch me like that 

“I only wanted to know, Prue I be getting ancient 
nd old, and the time draws nigh when life’ll be a 
burden I’d lief know as there was good in store for 
the best girl ever.” 

She looked out and away through the little moony 
window 7 , with the dark round blots that were red 
roses pressed on the panes, and the silver sky dim, 
and not starry, but very kind-seeming, and she seemed 
to be listening to summat. Then she said — 

“I do believe all shall be well with you, Prue It’s 
come to my heart as soft as dew, and as sweet as a 
red rose, that you’ll get love as well as give it After 



{ { 


THE BEST TALL SCRIPT 


x 95 


my time, though, after my time. But no matter for 
that, so I do know it's to come.” 

I felt a shiver of strangeness m the night. 

“What is it, my dear ?” I asked her “Is it the sec- 
ond sight ?” 

“No I see nought But I feel it within me ” 

“You be well, be you, Mother?” I said, for I was 
afraid she might be slipping from me, since the dying 
are ever so 

But she said, yes, she was in her daily health, and 
well, and not going to die this many a day, only it 
came on her at the thought of Weaver, and how he'd 
said — 

“Well, single I am, and single shall stay, I do 
believe But if ever I did think of asking to wed, it 
ud be just such another as that’n ” 

At the end of corn harvest Gideon asked me to 
write his second letter to Jancis 

We were having our suppers on the bench under 
the dairy window After, I fetched the ink and said 
what should I write? So he said I must write that 
he was well and hoped she was, and she was to be 
a good girl and work hard and not ask for any early 
money for clo’es or boots, but think of all that was to 
come, and it was a middling harvest, and her father 
still m the same mind about the young squire, who 
was about coming back from the Low Countries next 
year with his pockets full of money, and the big long- 
horn cow had calved, but dropped her calf like the 
gwenan she was, and to tell Mister Grimble he could 
do with a few lambs when he fetched them off the 
hills for the winter, but no sign of fut-rot, or home 



PRECIOUS BANE 


tg6 

they’d come, dang-swang, and so no more from G. 
Sara 

Then he said, "Tut in as I’ll see her, Christmas 
market, if Gambles ool bring her ” 

I said I’d do the best I could, and did it matter if 
I put in a bit more? And I couldna help but laugh, 
for it did seem such a peculiar letter for a fellow to 
write to his sweetheart. And Gideon looked up very 
sharp and said, why did I want to write more? So I 
said the pen did run away sometimes, and he said he 
supposed it wunna easy to know quite what you were 
at when you started writing, and God save him from 
such foolishness, and so long as I put in all he’d told 
me I might put m some as well, if I’d a mind 
So I wrote it 

Sarn 

September Twenty-six . 

My dear Sweetheart — 

It do seem a long while since your letter, which was 
a beauty, and I kissed it a good few times. You know 
very well how to do a love letter. I can see the two 
of you at it, your golden hair shining and your pretty 
face bent down, and Weaver smiling a bit, and looking 
well amused, with those eyes that would ’tice any girl 
away from her own man, and mind you dunna fall 
in love with anybody but me, if possible Maybe I 
shall see you at the Christmas market Tell Weaver 
that all Mother’s tales of our Prue be made-ups, for 
she’s very ornary in every way Tell Mister Gamble 
I could do with a few lambs Tell Weaver when he 
goes nigh Huglet’s he might carry a gun as well as 
not, for Huglet’s got an awful dog now, and I hope 



"the best tall script" 197 

all’s well betwixt Weaver and Grimble If therms 
ever any sewing work Weaver wants done, being a 
lone womanless man, IVe got two women in my house, 
Mother and sister, both glad of a job at a fair price, 
and red cabbage pickle and damson cheese they maken, 
which pays them very well to sell at half market price, 
and a charity to employ them It's a middling harvest, 
longhorn’s dropped her calf, young Camperdme’s ex- 
pected back next year, and if they’ve gotten fut-rot, 
back they’ll come, dang-swang, and so good-bye for 
now, and take all care of self. In the beginning of a 
cough take a lemon and crushed honeycomb fire-hot, 
and you be my dearest, dearest love as I’d spend my 
life for very willing any time, and die for you by bite 
of dog or any way, my dear, and so good night, from 
your lover 

Gideon Sarn 

That is a nice text, “The Maister be come ” 

I often wondered as the autumn went on, and the 
cold nights, what they thought of my letter We 
knew they had it all right, for one market day Gideon 
came back with the lambs, that Grimble had put in 
pen for him at the Mug o’ Cider , and they were good 
ones, with no fut-rot But it was drawing on to 
Christmas when the letter came from Jancis, and I 
mind it was a wild night, with a lashing of rain on the 
window, when I read it to Gideon. But it was warm 
within It made a good Christmas for me, in spite of 
work, and Mother very ailing, so as we had to send 
for the doctor’s man all the way from Silverton, foi 
Gideon wouldna hear of the doctor, saying the expense 
was more than enough as it was. He kept on grum 



198 


PRECIOUS BANE 


bling and saying she was a burden, and Mother would 
ask me “Does Sam think I be a burden So it 
was very awkward for me But that letter was as 
heartening as a platter of good hot soup, and lest 
Gideon should take it to his own keeping, I made a 
copy of it, and tins is it 

The High Farm, Outrack 

December 1. 

My dearest Acquaintance — 

I am thinking of Sarn as I write this, and of the 
best of lovers Mister Woodseaves ud be very glad 
of the sewing and the pickle and the damson cheese 
Sarn was so kind as to mention Perhaps might speak 
to your sister one day about it Mister Woodseaves 
says that is the best cough cure ever, and tried it one 
foggy night after getting back from here to Lulling- 
ford, but thinks it ud take a woman to mix it proper 
Sorry about the harvest and the calf, but no need to 
worry about Huglet's dog, not being afraid of any 
dog, nor of Huglet neither But that was a near 
shave at the Baiting, by gum, and a plucky woman to 
rush m the like of that and save a poor fellow. For 
Mister Woodseaves hears tell it was a woman did it, 
a tall slim woman with beautiful dark eyes, so they 
do say. It inna for me to say anything, as you know, 
Sarn. But others will talk. Weaver says if ever he 
had an acquaintance he'd lief she was that sort And 
so good night, and a merry Christmas from 

Jancis Beguildy 

I love you already, and if these things be done in 
the dry tree, what shall be done in the green? 



C apte four: lands Runs Away 


I T was a Christmas Eve again a year and eight 
months after Kester stopped the bull-baiting 
There'd been no letters from Jancis a long while, but 
Gideon never worried about such things He said it 
was only the weather, for the roads were so waid} 1 
round about Grimble’s that nobody could come at 
them in bad weather. They came to market seldom 
in winter, but laid in a store of such things as they 
needed, and Mister Grimble would send half a score 
waggons of grain to be ground at the mill, and then 
they'd settle down, the farm and the two labourers* 
cottages, with the horses in stable and the cattle in 
the near pasture and the sheep m the mangold fields 
close by, all snug for the winter. They were used to 
keep a lot of simples and cures at such farms, because 
no apothecary or doctor could get to them, the roads 
being past all telling bad, not if it was ever so 
“Woodseaves canna go there, and Jancis canna send 
to Lullmgford, but come a bit of fair weather, we 
shall hear," said Gideon. 

I used to think of Jancis, mewed up with Missis 
Grimble, a woman I couldna abide, nor could Jancis. 
I thought of the high mountains and the sleat storms 
like a wall of ice between her and us, and the snow, 
thick and soft, whispering, whispering. 

199 



200 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“It goes round the house, and round the house, and 
leaves a white glove m the window ” 

That's what they say of the snow at Sarn 
There were two sons, of course, to liven things up, 
but one of them was going to wed with the labourer's 
girl, and the other was very religious and didna hold 
with any kind of May-games, nor pleasuring, nor 
even much laughing and talking So she’d only Missis 
Gamble, that was a driver and a scold, and Mister 
Grimble, that was very awkward in bad weather, be- 
cause of the rheumatics I used to think of her a 
deal For if you thought of anybody at Sarn, you 
thought of them a deal, it being so quiet, especially in 
the winter, and time standing still, so it seemed 
And whenever I thought of Jancis I called to mind 
a thing I saw once in June, when we had strange 
untoert weather and a deal of tempest and sleat, which 
one day for about an hour turned to snow And I 
saw the wild roses, so tender and nesh, and used to 
nothing colder than dew, with their pale pink petals 
all full of snow, and seeming to be frozen through 
and through, gold hearts and all I thought of her 
always like that, for I was fond of her, and she 
seemed a child to me, though she was older. Even in 
spite of her making me remember that she was pretty 
and I was ugly, I was fond of her, and the more so 
when she was in trouble, for I never love folks quite 
so well when it's bright weather with them. So I 
wished I could have sent her summat for Christmas, 
if it was only a hemmed kerchief of plain linen I'd 
asked Gideon to inquire after her at Kester's when he 
to market, but Kester was away, and the house 



JANCIS RUNS AWAY 


20 J 


shut up That was uncomfortable news, for I liked 
to think of him by his own fireside, in the little house 
I knew by sight It seemed he was mgher then. But 
it was his custom to go oft for a month at a time in 
the winter to stay at one village or another and do 
all the weaving there, to save going to-and-again 

It was very quiet in our kitchen. Mother was in 
bed, being always bed-ridden now in hard weather, 
and Gideon was in the woods, getting the Christmas 
brand. For whatever else we were stinted of, we 
always had that, since it took only labour to get it, 
and Gideon never grudged that, poor lad I went to 
the door to listen if he’d finished chopping, and I 
could hear the axe barking, and the echo of it coming 
from across the mere. The trees were mounded up 
with snow, and the mere frozen till near the middle. 
The woods, as white as sugar, stood round the water 
so still, as if they were spelled, like folk in some old 
tale of witchcraft, so deep they w T ere in trusses and 
bales of snow, and not a breath stirring You couldna 
rail summer to mind You couldna think of the mere 
with lilies on it, and ripples I held my breath, it was 
so quiet, till a redshank called from the far end of the 
mere by the church, very sorrowful, with a sound like 
“Mute! Mute!” Then some widgeon went over 
against the darkening sky, and I heard Mother give a 
little cough, so I knew she’d be wanting her tea. The 
sound of the axe had stopped, so Gideon ud be coming 
soon, and I set about getting the meal. 

I was baking, a thing I dearly liked. Most of the 
work I did was men’s work, and baking seemed so 
light and pleasant after it I liked to see the dough 



202 


PRECIOUS BANE 


rising afore the big red fire, and to get the oven ready 
with burning wood, rakmg out the ash after, and set- 
ting the loaves in rows. It was pleasant to be in the 
warm, glowing kitchen, full of the good smell of 
bread, and to look out at the grey-white fields and 
woods, cold and lonesome, and then to draw the cur- 
tain, and kindle the rushlight, setting the table and 
putting the tater pie to get hot on the gledes, and 
knowing that in a little while all those I cared for 
would be comfortable for the night The fowl had 
been shut up since the first dusk, the cows and sheep 
were folded, Bendigo littered-up, Pussy by hearth, 
Mother with a bit of fire in her room and the 
warming-pan in the bed, and now Gideon was on the 
way back to his supper. The oven being still hot, I 
put in a batch of mince-pies, for Gideon liked a bit 
of good fare as well as anybody, though he’d growl 
times, and talk about ruination, and where’d our 
iiouse be and the silver plate and all But though I 
did as he said all the year round, with a bit of bread 
and cheese and a tater for a meal, at Christmas time 
I went by my own road, and we had our merrymaking 
almost like other folks And since, after all that came 
to pass, I’ve been more glad of that bit of disobedience 
to Gideon than of anything in our lives then. For I 
can say, “Anyway, they had that, whatever else they 
didna have 99 

I was singing to myself a bit, and talking to Pussy, 
who was almost too comfortable to purr, only if I 
spoke she’d partly get up, and arch herself very polite, 
and open her mouth to mew, and then be too bone-idle 
to make any sound. But she looked at me as much as 



JANCIS RUNS AWAY 


203 


to say, “I know you made this nice gledy fire to warm 
me, missus, and I know you've got summat in larder 
for I, and thank you kindly ” 

All of a sudden there came a soft tap at the door. 
So tiny and timid it was, it might almost have been a 
poor red-breast tapping with its beak There was one 
would come in hard weather, and if I was too long 
feeding it, it would tap on the window. I went to the 
door, and it being dark by now, and nobody coming 
our way in a month of Sundays, I may say I thought 
of frittenmg and fairies and Lob-he-by-the-fire, and 
all sorts of queer things that were used to happen in 
time past 

I opened it 

There against the white, dreary stretch of th< 
frozen mere, all woebegone and white in the light of 
the fire, was Jancis. 

No sooner did I pull her in than she fell down dang- 
swang m a heap on the floor. The poor girl! Nevei 
did I see such a pickle Her clothes were all torn, 
boots broken, hands and face scratched as if she’d been 
through brier hedges, which it turned out after that 
she had, and everything wringing wet as if she’d been 
dragged out of the mere. She’d fainted dead away, 
and I’d enough to do to get her round When she 
came to, she told me she’d had no food for nearly two 
days, and she’d walked all the way from Grimble’s 
in this weather. 

To think of it! The long and the short of it was 
that she’d run away, and she’d no money and no 
decent boots, and she had to slip away when she could, 
which chanced to be when she hadna got her shawl. 



204 


PKECIOUS BANE 


She cried and cried 

“Oh, I couldna bear it, Prue* Oh, dear Pruc, 
dunna scold! It was more than anybody could bean 
And when it came nigh Christmas and there was no 
news, and all of 'em ten times worse, being mewed up 
with the hard weather, oh, I couldna bear it And the 
girl at the cottage told me that the last two dairymaids 
ran away as well. She said why didna I run away, 
too ? Partly she said it because she was sorry for me, 
and partly because Alf Grimble, that's her young man, 
was paying me attentions So she told me the best 
time to go, and kept 'em all out of the way, and gave 
me some bread and meat and a bottle of milk, and 
promised to tell them some tale to keep them from 
following me " 

She stopped a bit for breath, and there came from 
outside the sound of Gideon's cart-wheels creaking 
along m the snow 

“What be you going to say to Gideon?" I asked her. 

“Oh, dunna let him be angered with me, Prue* 
Dunna ! I canna bear any more. When I tell you all 
I've been through, you'll see I canna " 

Gideon came to the door, dragging the great log, 
diat was the Christmas brand, on a chain 

“Dunna turn me out, Prue ! Whatever he do say, 
and however angered he be at me losing the place he 
settled on, keep me for this night !" 

So I said did she think any creature could make me 
turn her out at any time, let alone in such weather? 
And I tucked her up on settle, and said she must rest 
now, and afterwards she should have a sup of tea, and 



JANCIS RUNS AWAY 205 

then to bed, and all her troubles were over Then she 
smiled and whispered — 

“ I love ye, Prue f You bin like the Saviour to me 
this night,” and so fell asleep 

Times, seeing what came to pass, I’m mam glad of 
that smile and that whisper 

Eh, but Gideon was in a rage ! 

“Why, she'll lose all the money,” he says, the first 
minute, “and she'll not only lose the money for the 
year and four months to come, but she'll lose the 
wages for the year and eight months she's been there. 
If they break their time, they get no money. You 
know that as well as I do ” 

I asked how he could think of the money when she’d 
come to our door the like of that, all draggled and half 
dead. 

“You always were a fool, Prue,” he says, “and 1 
suppose you always will be.” 

But my patience was out, and I talked to Gideon 
straight. 

“I'd thank you to keep your tongue in leash this 
evening, Gideon! Here's Christmas, and Jancis come 
to you out of death's arms, very nearly For it 
wanted but a little. If she'd lost her way again, so 
late, she'd have been done. And seeing I've taken her 
in and she's to have my bed, and I've cossetted her 
for ye, she being your dear acquaintance, you'd ought 
to be humble and grateful to me and to them above 
for the savation of the poor child.” 

“Dear to goodness! What a spitfire all in a min- 
ute!” says he. He laughed a bit, being startled for I 



o6 


PRECIOUS BANE 


wasna used to breaking* out like that. Then he went 
tramping into the kitchen 

“Well!” he says, very loud, for he wunna used to 
sick folks, and he always seemed to think they were 
deaf When Mother was sick, he’d shout at her sum- 
mat odd, though Mother had kept her hearing very 
well. 

“Good evening, Sam!” says Jancis, very small and 
weak. 

“So you’ve raught back.” 

“Ah!” 

“Broke your time and all.” 

She began to cry. 

“Now then, dunna do that!” he says, quite taken-to. 
“Pruell give me some more tongue if you cry. I 
amna to say a word, not to-night. There’ll be summat 
to be said to-morrow, but I’m to leave you be to-night 
Well, how bin ’ee?” 

He stood in the middle of the kitchen and shoute. 
it at her, so I couldna help but laugh 

“Nicely, thank you kindly, Sarn,” she says. 

“You dunna do much credit to your pasture at 
Grimble’s. I’ll say that. See young Camperdine 
ever?” 

“No ” 

“Got an acquaintance over yonder?” 

“No, Sarn. You be my acquaintance for ever and 
ever ” 

“Not Alf Grimble?” 

“No But he was sweet on me, a bit, and pestered 
me. That was why I ran away ” 

I never thought Jancis was so clever. But every 



JANCIS RUNS AWAY 207 

woman’s clever when she’s in love, I do believe. She 
was ever so white against the black settle. 

“I ran away because you be the only acquaintance 
I do want. Sarn ” 

“So that was it! I’ll break Alf’s head for un come 
cattle-market.” 

“No Dunna, dunna!” 

“So you ran away all those miles and miles because 
you didna like Alf, and because I was your deaf 
acquaintance 

“Ah.” 

“Give us a kiss, wench !” 

I ran away into the dairy at that, and Pussy with 
me, for she was always a bit skeered when Gideon was 
in. I skimmed and skimmed, and if I cried a bit, who 
was the worse? For I wished I was on settle with a 
young man shouting at me from the middle of the 
kitchen, and then saying, “Give us a kiss, wench!” 
And if you should ask what manner of young man 
would I choose, I’d say as he’d wear a coat the colour 
of a May meadow, and look at you with eyes full of 
power and knowledge till your soul turned right 
over. 

“I canna have what I want, Pussy,” I says “But 
you can, for your wants be easy got ” 

And I gave her a great saucer of cream. I did! 
What would Gideon have said if he’d known? But 
he’d got his cream in the kitchen. 

“I’m giving you this* Pussy,” I says, “because I 
canna get my own cream. It eases me to see some- 
body satisfied” 

She looked at me, frittened, thinking she must be 



208 


PRECIOUS Bane 


going to get slapped in a minute, since it was too good 
to be true Then she lapped it up 

With that, I heard Mother calling. 

“You’ve had that, anyway, Pussy/’ I says. “And 
now, Mother, would ye like some cream with your 
tea?” 

“Why, yes, my dear. I do dearly like a drop ox 
cream with my tea But what’ll Sam say?” 

“Pie’s busy lapping cream hisself, Mother.” 

“Eh?” 

Mother thought I was comic-struck. 

“Well, in a manner of speaking Jancis be come.” 

“Jancis ?” 

“Ah. Run away.” 

“Dear to goodness!” 

“Walked all the way, she did.” 

“But why didna she go whorne?” 

I’d never thought of that. It seemed so natural she 
should come to us, like a clemmed redbreast. 

“She was afraid of Beguildy, I make no doubt. 
Mother ” 

“Ah You’ll have to go and tell Missis Beguildy ” 

“Boxing Day, I’ll go. Let Jancis have her Christ- 
mas” 

“Be they, as you met say, lovermg at all?” 

“Ah. Pie was took by surprise, and he gave her a 
kiss afore he knew it.” 

We laughed a bit 

“And now for your tea, Mother. There’s getting 
to be a real Christmassy feeling Cream all round! 
And after supper I’ll trim the house up with holly.” 

“Mmd you get some cream vourself, my dear.” 



JANCIS RUNS AWAY 


209 


As I went down the stair into the kitchen, where 
the two were sitting very old-fashioned on the settle, 

I wondered what would be cream for me. All in a 
minute, as I was scalding the tea, I knew. 

“Jancis,” I said. “You’d ougnt to write to Mister 
Woodseaves and say you’ve run away, or maybe he’ll 
be making shift to go over extra early to write a letter 
for you.” 

“A’ right, Prue, seeing it’s you and not me as 
writes, I dunna mind. But he wunna go over there 
again.” 

“Not go? For why?" 

“I’ll tell you all about it to-morrow-day. I be so 
tired now.” 

“All right,” I said, though I did long to hear about 
him 

“I’ll tell about running away to-night,” she said, 
but I told her supper first 

“Draw up now and take bite and sup Then you 
can tell us all about it, and then I’ll write.” 

I knew it would do her good to tell it. For when 
you’ve come through a bad time, to tell of it takes the 
thorn out. So she told us how she’d timed it to get to 
Lulhngford on market day and ask Gideon to bring 
her back, but took the wrong road in the hills, all 
looking tire same in the snow, and wandered far out 
of the way, and was benighted, and slept in one of the 
huts that they make of furze for lambing-time , and 
how she heard a breathing under the door, and 
thought it was the roaring bull of Bagbury, but she 
cried out upon the Trinity three times, as loud as she 
-ould, and it went away Then she struggled on to 



210 


PRECIOUS BANE 


Lullmgford, going across fields, not being able to find 
the road She was chased by a horse, which was 
worse than the roaring bull of Bagbury, and that was 
when she crept through the hedge. When she got 
to Lullmgford, Gideon was gone, for he always 
started back as soon as he could. She went to Hes- 
ter's, but he being away she could get no help there. 
She was afraid to ask anybody else, for fear they'd 
send her back to Gamble's, so she started off again. 
But afore she'd gone far, she was so fainty that she 
had to creep into a barn and wait till morning. Then 
when she got to the woods, she thought of a short cut, 
and lost her way again. And indeed it was no won- 
der, for in the woods about Sana it inna all that easy 
to find your way in summer even 

“Dear to goodness !" says Gideon, "you want a chap 
to look after you, seemingly. Such a tale of foolish- 
ness I never heard " 

“And what Feyther'll say passes me," she went on. 
“He’ll be neither to hold nor to bind He's very set 
in his ways now, and if you go agen his plans he's very 
crousty. If Mother knew, maybe she'd think of a 
way out." 

“I'll go and see your mother, come Boxing Day," I 
said 

“It’ll be a funny thing if we canna invent summat 
to get the better of an old moithered man, hoping you 
dunna mind me saying it." 

“Mind! You can say the worst you can think of 
about my dad, and I doubt I shanna think it's too 
much. And truly he be moithered, book-learning or 

_ _ 19 

no. 



JAN CIS RUNS AWAY Ixl 

“Set your heart at rest now. We'll think of sum- 
mat to give you time to turn round Maybe you could 
get another place Or maybe Gideon ” 

“If you mean, maybe Gideon'll want to get wed, I 
say, in my own good time and not afore I've told 
Jancis if it's a good harvest and we do well I'll be 
willing to get wed at Harvest Home And she's will- 
ing as well " 

“I'm right glad. Loving's never too early And 
if you be fond of a girl, you mun want her to be in 
your house, by fireside and table, indoors and out " 

I was thinking of a little house not twenty miles 
away, as different as could be from ours, and one in 
it as was a very obstinate bachelor, and didna want 
any woman there, let alone poor Prue Sarn I 
thought it was about time I wrote the letter 
“What shall I say in your letter, Jancis ? ” 

She said I was to say what I liked So I fetched 
ink and paper and my quill, and wrote it 

Christmas Eve 

Sarn. 

Dear Mister Woodseaves — 

I write to acquaint you as I've left Missis Grimble, 
being very near with the food and a driver, and 
maister's rheumatics very awkward in sharp weather, 
and sons awkward also one way or another. I’ve 
broke the journey at Sarn I may say Gideon and me 
think to be married come Harvest Home I may say 
I be very glad, for when you do love anybody you 
want to be with them and canna rest, nights, wonder- 
ing where they be, and if all's well, and if they change 



212 


PRECIOUS BANE 


their stockings when damp, and if they be lonesome 
ever 

I be more choice of him I love than of all else in 
the world beside. 

He be so kind and so brave, and when he be there 
I can but say, “The maister be come.” 

I love him past telling, and shall to the end, and so 
good night, Mister Woodseaves, and a merry Christ- 
mas, from 

Jancis Beguildy. 

“You write a pretty tidy letter, Jancis/’ I says. 
“Would ye like me to read it ? ” 

“Laws, no* What for should ye? You know 
what’s to be said ” 

“Ah I know right well what’s to be said. Only I 
munna say it,” I thought “That’s the trouble ” 

I fastened the letter up and put it on the chimney- 
piece ready for Gideon to take next market day. 

There was a strangeness about the place all that 
Christmas It was the best Christmas ever we had, 
and there was more singing and laughing than there’d 
bm for many a year. And yet it was m a manner of 
speaking sad It seemed to me as if the singing came 
from a great way off, under the water And when 
Jancis sat by the window, with the light falling on her 
pale gold hair and pale face through the greenish 
bottle-glass, it made her look as if the water flowed 
over her. 

“Green gravel , green gravel the grass is so green? 
The fairest young lady that ever was seen . 



JANCIS RUNS AWAY 


213 


I'll wash you in milk , and clothe you m silk, 

And write down your name with a gold pen and ink ” 

Ah ! I can hear Jancis singing that song now, with 
her sweet shrilly voice, a great way off, ah, me* a 
great way off 

Mother let me get her up, Christmas morning, and 
came into the kitchen, sitting snug m the chimney cor- 
ner watching the lovers with a pleased, understanding, 
merry look, such as I’ve often seen on the faces of old 
women that have lived their lives and known summat 
of love Its as if they said, as they looked at the 
young lovers — 

“Pleased, be ye, my lad? You’ll be better pleased 
yet! . . All of a twitter, be ye, my girl? Well, I 

can tell ye, you’ll be m more of a twitter later on, a 
power ” 

I could see very well that when we three sang “As 
Joseph was a-walking,” and “Good Christian men, 
rejoice *” Mother was hearing other voices too, little 
voices like the Callard children’s, lifted up all to- 
gether, shrilly and sweet She was seeing other faces, 
well scrubbed and rosy, lifted up to her as she sat in 
the dusk of the settle, ready to smile when the solemn 
carols were done, and shout “Granma*” 

She kept on patting Jancis on shoulder, and saying, 
“Pretty thing! Pretty*” and once I heard her cau- 
tioning Jancis against hares 

“When your time comes, my dear, dunna you go in 
the ’oods much, nor yet in the meadows. Keep near 
whome and you wunna come across one. ’Twould be 
a sad mischance, so it would ” 



21 4 


PRECIOUS BANE 


f Oh, Missis Sarn f ” says Jancis, laughing and col- 
ouring up above a bit, “you do run on so fast* We 
inna so much as courting yet " 

“And so do time run on, my dear. You munna 
let the moss grow on the path of love Dunna give too 
many nay-words He's a good lad when you dunna 
vex him " 

“But it's Sarn more than me as wants to wait," said 
Jancis 

“Foolish, foolish lad ! What matter for the silver 
plate? What matter for so many maids and men? 
I'm sure I'd be content without, so as I needna tend 
swine again, and can have my feet to the fire and a 
cup of tay." 

“Sarn wants to take me to the ’unt Ball," said 
Jancis “And I be to go in afore Miss Dorabella " 

“That’s a mischievous thought For whal dun it 
matter who’s first so long as all be m? And what is 
it to go to one ball more than another?" 

“But I’d like it right well, to go m afore Miss Dora- 
bella f” 

“And so thee shall 1 " called out Gideon from the 
door, where he was knocking the snow and mud off 
his boots. “And so thee shall, my girl, and dressed as 
shameless as a lady!" 

Fie came across the kitchen with the bit of mistle- 
toe he’d clomb the big apple tree to get, and gave her a 
loud, smacking kiss under it. 

Mother clapped hands, as pleased as a child when 
kitty wakes up and plays But even when she clapped 
for joy, her hands still looked like the little praying 
paws of a trapped mole. 



JANCIS RUNS AWAY 


215 


“Not later than Harvest, Sam?” she pleaded. 
“You wunna put it off later than that? I’ll last till 
then, sure But after — the winter comes, and who 
knows? Fd lief see you wed afore winter.” 

“Oh, we shanna put off. Mother. No danger! 
What need? For I shall be a rich mon when Fve sold 
the corn, and it'll cost nought to get it, for we can 
have a love-carnage, and I can pay back with task- 
work in the winter And in another tuthree years we 
can shift, for the old mon at Lullmgford wunna last 
long, and the money’ll be ready when the place comes 
on the market ” 

So they were all merry, and when I said, “The tea’s 
scalded!” Gideon gave me a very affectionate pat on 
the shoulder and said I was a good wench. 

“A right good wench if ever there was one Now 
draw up ! Draw up to table all 1 I want me tea cruel ” 

But I couldna be as merry as they were I felt out- 
side it all. Only I took a bit of comfort, now and 
again, between cutting bread and frizzling rashers and 
pouring tea, m looking up at my letter on the mantel, 
with the address on it in very tall script — 

Mister Woodseaves, 

The Weaver’s House, 

Lullmgford. 

Then Jancis told us about Kester, and of the things 
that had come about through Grimble’s spite, which 
couldna be told m letters For it seemed that Grimble 
and Huglet had mishked Kester ever since he stopped 
the baiting, and the mislike had soon grown into 
black hatred. They tried to set all the other farmers 



2l6 


PRECIOUS BANE 


a gen him, saying this and that They found fault 
with his weaving, which was the best m all the coun- 
try round And they said he was slow, and dear 
Not content with that, they must enquire into his 
religion and his ways of thinking in the matter of the 
corn laws and the Parliament men. They hob-nobbed 
with Squire over that, and set him agen Kester too, 
worse than he was, for they said nought about the 
baiting, but kept to the corn. Every way they could, 
they worked against Kester, and very worried they 
must ha’ been that he didna drink or go after women, 
or do anything that they could have told of to the 
Parish Constable But they did their best to make his 
life a burden, for it irked them so sore to think of no 
bull-baiting for ten years. So one day when he was 
weaving at Grimble’s and it came to evening, Mister 
Grimble looked at the cloth Kester had done in the 
day, and couldna find fault with it, neither with the 
quality nor the quantity. For he’d worked right well, 
and Jancis said it was as smooth as silk, and never a 
lump nor a knot in it He said nought to Kester, and 
after supper Jancis fetched the paper and they began 
to write the letter to Gideon. And it seemed Mister 
Grimble couldn’t abide to see that, for he couldna read 
nor write, and he thought Kester was above hisself 
So when he couldna keep any longer, but mun speak 
or burst, he says — 

“If young Sarn do like damaged goods, he’ll get 
what he wants, and I doubt he’ll have you to thank, 
Weaver Very comfortable and pleasant you be to- 
gether, I must say, you and Sara’s girl It’s baby 
linen you’d best be weaving, young Woodseaves.” 



JANCIS RUNS AWAY 


217 


And with that, Kester snatched up his hat and all his 
things m a fury, but saying nought. And when he 
got to the door, he turns round and says — 

“You may get Huglet’s brother-law to weave for 
ye from now on, Grimble. You’ll go without weaving 
for all me You bin a foul-mouthed toad and a dis- 
grace to your parish, which is situate m hell ” 

He flung out, and he never came near the place 
again 

I was forced to go up to the attic to think about it 
a bit. I did love Kester so sore for his rage. I 
thought I’d like to see un in a rage, though not with 
me, for if he was in a proper rage with me, I’d die. 

On Boxing Day I went across to the Stone House, 
and a windy walk it was, for the snow was drifted 
deep along the wood path But it was fair overhead, 
and a mistletoe thrush was singing, and the cuckoo’s 
beads were very bright on all the may-trees Be- 
guildy was out, for a wonder. Missis Beguildy and 
me had a good talk 

“Well, well, poor lamb,” she said, “to think she 
couldna come to her own Mother because the mester 
be such a pig-headed fool 1 Drat the man! Now 
what’s to do? For go back to Grimble’s she never 
shall But ours’ll be roaring-mad to think of all that 
money gone. Keep her a bit longer till the worst’s 
worn off, my dear !” 

“Oh, she can bide, and welcome, as long as she’s a 
mind.” 

“May them above reward ye*” she says For she 
was a very religious person, in the manner of the 
church And though I’ve no wish to speak ill of her. 



2l8 


PRECIOUS BANE 


yet I partly think she was religious, in a measure at 
least, to spite Begmldy. But maybe this is a wicked 
thought of mine. 

“Gideon was telling us that Callard’s girl ran away 
afore winter/' I said “She’s by lonesome there all 
day with the five little uns and the baby Maybe if 
vve went at it the right way, and made a favour of it, 
diey’d pay the same rate as Grimbles They’ll get 
nobody else till the spring, for they’re all hired now 
till May, and besides, Callard’s Dingle inna a place 
the girls like You go and see Missis Callard, and 
I’ll make shift to have a lesson to keep your maister 
busy ” 

“But you’ve left learning this long while, my dear, 
for you know as much as Beguildy does ” 

“Ah, well, there’s summat new I want to learn, but 
I dunno if it’s m the books ” 

“What met that be ? ” 

“It’s an old ancient charm. Missis Beguildy, and 
it’s called content ” 

“Oh, that! It’s m no book of hisn ” 

“Nor m any book,” I said But I thought, there’s 
one knows it Please God he met learn me But 
that he never will 

“Eh, but it be no manner use for me to go, Prue,” 
she says “They’d set the dogs on me, very like. 
Callard’s very religious, you mind And he canna 
abide ours And all he thinks, his missus thinks, all 
he says, she says, pat like the Sarn echo Come to 
that, it’ll go hard but they’ll take Jancis in at all, what- 
ever, being who her dada is But maybe if you went, 
and told them on the quiet that Jancis is promised to 



JANCIS UNS AWAY 


219 


Sam, they met think of it, for your brother's begin- 
ning to be well spoken of as a man that’s bound to be 
rich ’’ 

So I said I’d go. I couldna abide going, being 
looked at a bit sideways myself, and spoken ill of 
time and again. But when I saw Gideon and Jancis 
so pleasant and merry together in the even, playing 
beggar-me-neighbor by firelight, I knew I was bound 
to go. 

“Why, Gideon," I says, “you’re busy at it, 1 see 
Though you canna play conquer with cob-nuts and 
snail-housen now, being too old, you’re beggaring 
somebody still " 

“Conquer 1 " says Mother from her corner. “Ah, 
what a game that is ! He was always very set on it, 
you mind He liked to play ootli them big pink-and- 
white conquers, the Roman snail, they callen it, dunna 
they, Prue? It was those you went after the night 
poor Sara was took in his boots. Poor soul!" 

She cried a bit, and went to look very small, which 
she always did when she was vexed. 

“There, there, Mother, dunna fret, he’s in peace 
now." 

“Ah, poor soul! And Sam’s took the sin My 
son Sara. Chumbled it up proper, a did And I 
can see as there’ll be lads to play conquer in our kit- 
chen yet, with the big pink-and- white uns, of an even- 
ing." 

She looked across at the settle. Gideon had just 
beggared Jancis, and was in very good fettle. 

'Ah, boys and girls," says Mother “For I see well 
as he’ll beggar her of more than cards." 



20 


PRECIOUS BANE 


She began to laugh at the thought of the grand- 
children, and at her joke, and she laughed so much 
that she gave herself a hoost, and I had to put her to 
bed 

Next day I set off for Callard’s Dingle It was a 
way nobody would choose to go with snow deep on the 
ground, for it lay over bleak, high pastures, with 
northerly slopes, bitter cold and drifted up. But see- 
ing I was on a good errand, I began to sing out on 
the bare pastures with none to hear. 

“Open the gates as wide as the sky . . 

And there by the farm, in a little fenced held, what 
should I see grazing under a dark pine wood but the 
white bull that Kester saved from the baiting? I 
stopped and looked at it a bit There it was, not dead 
<:or maimed, its nice white coat in good case, and look- 
ing as contented as if it was just come to heaven, and 
all because of Kester. 

He’d kept his promise and paid the money, and 
then given the bull back to Callard for his children 

“If you ever come to think bull-baiting’ s bad, I’d 
lief you told ’em so,” he said, “but not agen your 
conscience ” 

Now Callard was a very honest man, and he felt 
bound to make some return, whether or no, so he took 
the matter up m good sadness Jancis said after- 
wards that it was very amusing to see him gather 
11 the children together round the hearth, sitting on 
their little stools, of an evening, the baby also being 
there on its mother’s knee And Callard ud say very 
loud — 

“Bull-baitmg’s bad !” 



JANCXS RUNS AWAY 


221 


And his missus in that melancholy voice of hers 
would repeat — 

“Bad >” like the Sarn echo. 

Then all the children would sing out, like a nest 
of birds — 

“Bull-baiting’s bad !” 

And times the baby would give a guggle, and times 
he’d stay quiet, considering, like. There was only 
one disagreeing voice, and that was old Granfer 
Callard’s, which was very high and trembling. He’d 
call out — 

“No ! No! It inna bad It be a right good merry 
old sport!” 

But nobody listened to him, for he was getting very 
simple He came to the door when I knocked, and 
railed out to his daughter-law — 

“It be that there long thing young ’oman, Maria. 
The witch woman.” 

“Well, bring her in, feyther-law.” 

“Come thy ways,” he says “Her’ll be down when 
the baby gives over hollering I do wish I’d got such 
lungs as hisn I be very middling Very middling - 
be Can you do cures ?” 

I said no to that. 

“Oh! I thought Beguildy’d learnt ye. A very 
sinful man is that Soaked m sin like a sheep in 
raddle It wunna be any manner use for ’im to 
yammer at the doors o’ Paradise and say, ‘Wesh me 
and I shall be whiter than snow.’ For I tell ye not 
the Judge of all could clane ’im, even if He could 
spare the time to it. Ah ! A wicked old man is the 
Wizard I do believe he lives by sucking folks’ life 



222 


PRECIOUS BAN 


away in the mid of night. Ah ! sucks their blood, he 
does. They seyn he goes to the churchyard and digs 
folk up to steal their bwones and grind ’em for his 
spells They seyn he fetches little children whome 
in his bag, and makes a meal of ’em Oh, he be the 
wickedest man since Punty Pilate, no danger!” 

By this, the elder children were roaring with fright, 
and Missis Callard called out from the top of the 
stair — 

“Feyther-law, what be saying now? Hold thy 
noise *” 

Mister Callard came in then, and said I’d best take 
pot-luck, seeing it was tea-time So when we’d had 
our tea, I told them about Jancis. 

“So ’er run away!” says Mister Callard. “In this 
weather. Well, by gum!” 

“Gum!” says his missus 

“Broke her time!” says Callard 

“Time*” says his missus, sorrowful. 

“Nobody ever broke their time when I was a lad,” 
said the old man, “They darstna They’d have been 
put in the stocks.” 

“And you be sure it inna anything to do with 
Weaver?” 

“Weaver!” says Missis Callard, grievous 

“Weaver* Weaver!” shouted the children, and it 
seemed to me as if they praised his name. 

“I be as sure of that as I’m sure that I breathe,” I 
said. 

“And she’s promised to your brother?” 

“Ah. They’ll be wed come Harvest Home.” 

“Then,” says Mister Callard, “the missus shall ive 
the girl a trial.” 



JANC1S RUNS AWAY 22J 

"Trial echoes Missis Callard in a hopeless sort of 
way, as if she thought that was what Jancis would be. 

They agreed to take Jancis for six months, and to 
give her three pound, which was a deal for them to 
offer. So I went back m high feather. Next day 
Gideon said we could have Bendigo, so I drove Jancis 
to Callard’s, stopping at Beguildy’s on the way, to 
break the news to the old man. 

Oh, dear me, but he was m a passion! And the 
worst of it was, that he blamed it all on to Gideon, 
who had nought to do with it at all. 

‘Til be even with that brother of yours for this,” 
he says "Ah! A very aggravating man. His dad 
was the same. I couldna plan out anything or set my 
hand to any work but he'd come and knock it down, 
tiddly-bump. And young Sara's the same Look at 
the way he’s let and hindered me over the young 
squire !” 

But Missis Beguildy was pleased 

"And you shall come whome at the end of hay 
harvest, Jancis,” she said, "to make your wedding 
clo’es. And the wedding shall be at Michaelmas. The 
Glory roses'll be in their second blooming then, and 
you shall have 'em for your nosegay ” 

"I tell ye,” says Beguildy, "as Sara shanna take 
her. You can tell un so from me, Prue Sara. 
Thwarted I wunna be I've cursed the man by fire 
and watter, and cursed he’ll surely be Tell un neither 
with the ring nor without it shall he take my wench.” 

"Well, good day to you, Mister Beguildy,” I said. 
For I thought it was time to drive on. 

"Prue,” said Jancis as we drove through the water 
meadows between P3»<di and Callard'? Dingle, "what 



224 


PRECIOUS BANE 


for did ye knife Grumble's dog and take on the way 
you did about Weaver ?" 

She looked up at me with those big blue eyes of 
hers, and I beat Bendigo cruel so as to be busy about 
summat The poor old nag gave a half look round, 
and my conscience pricked me, but what was I to do ? 

“Folk be saying it was a very out-of-the-ornary 
thing for a girl to do for a stranger. Ah! even as 
far as Grimble's they knew it was you, though neither 
Grimble nor the missus told 'em, for they didna like 
to speak of it, being beaten over it But everybody 
knows m all the country round by this " 

She kept on looking and looking at me, and the red- 
scarlet was burning like fire in my cheeks. I kept on 
thrashing Bendigo, and we went over the tumps and 
marshy bits at such a wallop as never was 

Jancis gave a little laugh, very knowing and 
aggravating 

“Poor owd Bendigo's done nought," she says 

“I want to get there," I answers, foolish-like. 

“Oh, I'll be bound you'll get there," she says Then 
she was quiet for a bit, though she watched me all 
the while 

“I wonder," she said after a time, “what Weaver 
ud think if he knew?" 

“He couldna know," I said “He was in a 
swound." 

“He met hear tell ! And I wonder what he'd think 
if it came to his ears that Prue Sarn had foughten for 
un like a tiger 

“Ple'd think nought. Everybody do know I'm sorry 
ior the afflicted " 

“Well, but he inna what you'd call one of thf* 



JANCIS RUNS A W A * 225 

afflicted. Mister Woodseaves mna He’s the best 
wrostler m these parts, and a right proper man.” 

“He was afflicted when Grimble’s Toby got Tm by 
the throat, wunna he ? ” 

“Ah But why must it be Prue Sarn that did save 
him? And why must she take his yead to her bosom 
so kind and all? Not but what he’s got very nice 
brown hair, and silky I was used to notice it when 
he was writing the letters for me And that Felena 
thinks so too. She does fairly tarment him, market 
days.” 

"What a brazen piece ! What does she do 

I was glad to turn Jancis on to summat else 

“O she goes to the house, and leaves a great basket 
of mushrooms, or a frail of wimberries, or maybe 
a bit of mutton, if shepherd’s killed a sheep. And 
if she meets him in the road, she’ll look at un with 
them green eyes and smile as sweet as an October nut 
And one night when shepherd was drunk and they 
were late starting whome, what must she do but go 
m the dusk and sing a wild song outside his win- 
dow.” 

“What did she sing?” 

“O she sang — 

'A vargm went a-souling in the dark of the moon. 

A soul-cake 1 A soul-cake t 
0 give it me kindly and give it me soon. 

A soul-cake f A soul-cake 1 

The young man he looks from his window so bright 
Here's a vargin come wailing in the dark of the night 1 
Nozv zvhat'll you gwe me for a soul-cake , my maidf 
My body , my body for a soul-cake f s^e said / 



226 


PRECIOUS BANE 


And I call that a right down improper song, dunna 
you, Prue ? ” 

“What did he think of it 

“I wouldna demean myself to ask him. But she’s 
a very wild woman, is Felena She’ll ’tice him and 
tempt him to a fall if somebody dunna keep her off. 
But I want to know what I be to say to Weaver if 
he asks me why you were so busy a-saving of him/ 1 

“Say nought ” 

“Nought’s no answer.” 

“It’s all he’ll get.” 

“The way you stood over the fellow like one of the 
angels at Eden gate, with that great knife !” 

“It’s none of your business if I did ” 

“Ah It be ” 

“For why?” 

“Because I love ye, Prue.” 

“Thanks be to goodness, we’re at Callard’s,” I said, 
ms we came into the fold, and the house door burst 
^pen and out came the five children, Granfeyther 
Ballard, Missis Callard and the baby, like bees from 
i skep 

The last thing Jancis said afore I drove away was— 

“I shall be bound to send for Weaver soon.” 

“Whatever for?” 

“To write me a letter to Sarn ” 

“Why, you be only a tuthree miles from Gideon 
now. Whatever do you want to write a letter for?” 

“It’s none of your business if I do,” says she, very 
mim, and laughing to herself, “which is what you did 
say to me, Prue Sam !” 



chapter five: Dragon-flies 


F ROM the time when Jancis went to Callard’s 
Dingle, through the spring and summer, there is 
nothing written m my book saving of my own special 
concerns, such as the progress I made m reading hard 
books and the thoughts that came to me in the attic 
These, as they had no bearing on the lives of others 
at that time, are not of any interest, and I will not 
weary you with them. Gideon went to Callard’s 
Dingle every Sunday, and worked like three men m 
between. I ploughed furrow for furrow along of 
him, and dug spade for spade Our farm was rich 
with corn Never afore or since did I see any fields 
m our part of the country in such good case, for it 
was a year of sweet, growing weather, with enough 
ram to swell the gram and not enough to make it 
ackerspire Sunday after Sunday I saw Gideon, on 
the way to Callard’s, stop and lean over the gate at 
the top of the sloping meadow, where you could look 
over the whole place, like a miser with his gold. 
And now and agen I went with him, and was glad to 
see such a glowing content m anybody’s face, but a 
deal more glad since it was Gideon’s, that was seldom 
what you met call a happy face. When he’d gone 
striding along, whistling pretty near out loud, I'd sit 
a while afore going back to Mother. I’d think to 
myself that when he was wed to Jancis, the corn soH 

227 



228 


PRECIOUS BANE 


and Fortune knocking at the door, then at long last 
he'd whistle out loud I got a great longing to hear 
that, for it seemed to me an unhealthy sort of thing 
foi folks to whistle or sing or speak to their mommets 
all the while 

“Come harvest !” I'd think And I’d begin to dream 
of being as beautiful as a fairy. 

It was a great delight to me, apart from the thought 
of all this, to look at the standing corn and see it like 
a great mere under the wind. Times it was still, with- 
out a ripple; times it went in little waves, and you 
could almost think the big bosses of wild onion flowers 
under the far hedges were lilies heaving gently on the 
tide , and times there was a great storm down* in those 
hollows, like the storm in Galilee Mere, that the King 
of Love did still So I watched the gram week by 
week, from the time when it was all one green till it 
began to take colour, turning raddled or abron or pale, 
each m his kind And it shone, nights, as if there was 
a light behind it, with a kind of soft shining like 
glow-worms or a marish light. I never knew, nor do 
I know now, why corn shines thus in the nights of 
July and August, keeping a moonlight of its own even 
when there is no moon But it is a marvellous thin 
to see, when the great hush of full summer and deep 
night is upon the land, till even the aspen tree, that 
will ever be gossiping, durstna speak, but holds breath 
as if she waited for the coming of the Lord I make 
no doubt that if any read this book it will seem strange 
to them that a farm woman should look at the things 
about her m this wise, and indeed it is not many do 
But when you dwell in_a house you mishke, you will 



DRAGON-FLIES 22§ 

look out of window a deal more than those that are 
content with their dwelling So I, finding my own 
person and my own life not to my mind, took my 
pleasure where I could. There were things I waited 
for as a wench waits for her sweetheart at the edge 
of the forest This rippling and shining of the corn 
was one, and another which came about the time 
of the beginning of the troubling of the water, was 
the marvellous sight of the dragon-flies coming out 
of their bodies We had a power of dragon-flies at 
Sarn, of man) kinds and colours, little and big But 
every one was bound in due season to climb up out 
of its watery grave and come out of its body with 
great labour and pain, and a torment like the torment 
of childbirth, and a rending like the rending of the 
tomb And there was no year, since the first time I 
saw it, that I missed to see this showing forth of 
God's power 

'I went down by the mere to gather honeysuckle 
wrathes to bind besoms. And being sad in calling to 
mind what Miss Dorabella had said, for besoms ever 
made me think on it, and seeing that the troubling of 
the water was even now beginning, with a slow gentle 
simmering all over the mere, I thought I would go to 
a place I knew where there -were always a mart of 
dragon-flies, and take comfort from seeing them com- 
ing out of their bodies. Dragon-fly, I say, because 1 
doubt some wouldna know what our name for then? 
meant We called the dragon-fly the ether's mon or 
ether's nild at Sarn, for it was supposed that where 
the adder, or ether, lay hid in the grass, there above 
hovered the ether's mon as a warning. One kind, all 



PRECIOUS BAN 


:* 3 ° 

blue, we called the kingfisher, and another one, with 
a very thin body, the darning-needle. Mother was 
used to tell Gideon that if he took dog's leave or did 
other mischief the devil would take needle to him 
and use the dragon-flies to sew up his ears, so he 
couldna hear the comfortable word of God and would 
come to damnation. But I could never believe that 
the devil could have power over such a fair thing as 
a dx agon-fly. 

That was the best time of year for our lake, when 
in the still, hot noons the water looked so kind, being 
of a calm, pale blue, that you would never think if 
could drown anybody All round stood the tall trees, 
thick-leaved with rich summer green, unstirring, 
caught m a spell, sending down their coloured shadows 
into the mere, so that the tree-tops almost met in the 
middle. From either hand the notes of the small 
birds that had not yet given up singing went ringing 
out across the water, and so quiet it was that though 
they were only such thm songs as those of willow 
wrens and robins, you could hear them all across the 
mere. Even on such a burning day as this, when I 
pulled the honeysuckle wrathes, there was a sweet, 
cool air from the water, very heady and full of life 
For though Sarn was an ill place to live, and m the 
wintry months a very mournful place, at this one time 
of the year it left dreaming of sorrow and was as other 
fair stretches of wood and water All around the 
lake stood the tall bulrushes with their stout heads of 
brown plush, just like a long coat Miss Dorabella had. 
Within the ring of rushes was another ring of lilies, 
and at this time of the year they were the most beauti- 



DRAGON-FLIES 


*3* 

ful thing at Sarn, and the most beautiful thing Fd ever 
seen The big bright leaves lay calm upon the water, 
and calmer yet upon the leaves lay the lilies, white 
and yellow. When they were buds, they were like 
white and gold birds sleeping, head under wing, or 
like summat carven out of glistering stone, or, 3s I 
said afore, they were like gouts of pale wax. But 
when they were come into full blow they wunna like 
anything but themselves, and they were so lovely you 
couldna choose but cry to see them The yellow ones 
had more of a spread of petals, having five or six 
apiece, but the white ones opened their four wider 
and each petal was bigger. These petals are of a 
glistering white within, like the raiment of those men 
who stood with Christ upon the mountain top, and 
without they are stained with tender green, as if they 
had taken colour from the green shadows in the 
water. Some of the dragon-flies look like this also, 
for their lacy wings without other colour are some- 
times touched with shifting green 

So the mere was three times ringed about, as if it 
had been three times put m a spell First there was 
the ring of oaks and larches, willows, ollem-trees and 
beeches, solemn and strong, to keep the w r orld out 
Then there was the ring of rushes, sighing thinly, 
brittle and sparse, but enough, with their Ion 
trembling shadows, to keep the spells in. 

Then there was the ring of lilies, as I said, lying 
there as if Jesus, walking upon the water, had laid 
them down with His cool hands, afore He turned to 
the multitude saying, “Behold the lilies !” And as 
if they were not enough to shake your soul, there 



PRECIOUS BAN 


232 

beneath every lily, white and green or pale gold, was 
her bright shadow, as it had been her angel And 
through the long, untroubled day the lilies and their 
angels looked one upon the other and were content 

There were plenty of dragon-flies about, both big 
and little. There were the big blue ones that are so 
strong they will fly over top of the tallest tree if you 
f ritten them, and there were the tiny thin ones that seem 
almost too small to be called dragon-flies at all There 
were rich blue kingfisher-flies and those we called 
damsels, coloured and polished in the manner of lustre 
ware. There were a good few with clear wings of 
no colour or of faint green, and a tuthree with a 
powdery look like you see on the leaves of 'rickluses. 
Some were tawny, like a fitchet cat, some were rusty 
or coloured like the copper fruit-kettle Jewels, they 
made you think of, precious gems such as be listed m 
the Bible. And the sound of their wings was loud in 
the air, sharp and whirring, when they had come to 
themselves after their agony. Whiles, in some mossy 
bit of clear ground between the trees, they'd sit about 
like so many cats round the hearth, very contented in 
themselves, so you could almost think they were wash- 
ing their faces and purring. 

On a tall rush close by the bank I found one just 
beginning to come out of its body, and I leaned near, 
pretty well holding my breath, to see the miracle. 
Already the skin over its bright, flaming eyes was as 
thin as glass, so that you could see them shining like 
coloured lamps. In a little, the old skin split, and it 
got its head out. Then began the wrostling, and the 
travail to get free, first its legs, then its shoulders and 



DRAGO N-FLIES 


m 


soft wrinkled wings It was like a creature possessed, 
seeming to fall into a fit, times, and, times, to be struck 
stiff as a corpse Just afore the end, it stayed a long 
while still, as if it was wondering whether it durst get 
quite free m a world all new. Then it gave a great 
heave and a kind of bursting wrench and it was out 
It clomb a little way further up the bulrush, very 
sleepy and tired, like a child after a long day at the 
fair, and fell into a doze, while its wings began to 
grow “Well,” I says, with a bit of a laugh and 
summat near a bit of a sob, “well, you’ve done it! 
It’s cost you summat, but you’ve won free I’m in 
behopes you’ll have a pleasant time I suppose this 
be your Paradise, bmna it?” 

But of course it couldna make any sign, save to 
go on growing its wings as fast as might be So there 
I stood, with my armful of wrathes, and there it 
clung, limp on the brown rush, in the golden light 
that had come upon Sarn like a merciful healer. I 
was wasting my time, which was deadly sin at our 
place, and I turned to go But just as I turned, there 
was a bit of a rustle, and there stood Kester Woods- 
eaves. 

I made to run away, and indeed I’d have jumped 
into the mere sooner than he should see me But he 
put his hand on my shoulder, and for all it was 
gentle, it was a wrostler’s hand, and not to be said 
no to 

“What? Oot run away ? Why, Prue Sarn?” he 
said. 

I hung my head and wished I was the dragon-fly ^ X 
^aid nought 



m 


PRECIOUS BANE 


I gave a despert pull, but it was no manner use. 
He only laughed 

“1 do think/ 5 he said, in the voice that made its 
own summer, “that it be a very funny way to treat 
a chap as comes to thank ye kindly for saving of 
his life, Prue Sarn, to take off the like of that’n, and 
try to jump in the lake !” 

His hand sent such a throbbing through me that I 
could scarce stand 

“What were you looking at when I came?” he 
asked me 

“The damsel fly, coming out of its shroud ” 

“Once out/ 5 he says, “they’re out for good It 
costs a deal to get free But once free, they never 
fold their wings ” 

“No,” I said, “and some of ’em go so high, I think, 
times, they might flitter right into heaven.” 

“We’d all like to do that, I’ll be bound, if we could 
choose our heaven. I’m not very choice of golden 
streets myself. And I’d like my heaven afore I die.” 

“And what ud it be ? ” I asked him I was so 
interested, I declare I’d clean forgot my curse 

“I’m not quite sure yet,” he says, “but come a year, 
maybe, I’ll know ” 

“There’s a long while,” I says, mocking at him, “to 
be hiver hovering, choosing your bit of paradise.” 

“Could you think of yours sooner, Prue Sarn?” 
says he 

I looked at his green coat, which made him a very 
personable man, and I fixed on a place on the left 
side, just betwixt the sleeve of it and the breast of it, 
where I’d lief lay my head, and I said — 



DRAGON-FLIES 


235 


“Ah I’ve thought of mine.” 

"'Oh! Well, what is it ? ” 

“I said as I’d thought of it. Mister Woodseaves. 
But my thoughts be my own ” 

He laughed Then he says — 

"You can write a dommed good letter, Prue.” 

“They were Gideon’s letters ” 

“I take it very kind in Sarn to tell me to change my 
stockings when they be wet It inna often you find a 
man as thinks of such things, and Sarn least of all. 
I’d have said ” 

He let me have the full light of his eyes, and I 
hung my head and found nothing to answer. 

"And the sewing work, and the damson cheese and 
the pickle at half market price, well, I tell you, it fairly 
bowled me over, for I’d heard Sarn was a hard man, 
very near m a bargain, asking nothing and giving 
nothing And then for him to offer me those victuals ! 
I must have misjudged the chap cruel ” 

But by this I’d remembered that the stockings were 
in the letter I wrote for Jancis after she ran away. 
So I said, it was Jancis mentioned stockings. 

“Oh, yes, so it was !” he says “I liked that letter. 
A very nice girl, that. For whoever wrote the letter, 
she made it up, of course !” 

He looked at me again, and I found nought to say. 

“ "I be more choice of him I love than of all else 
in the world beside I* That’s a woman worth summat 
to a fellow,” he went on “And, T love him past 
telling, and shall to the end’ And in especial that 
about, "spend my life any time very willing, and die 
for you by bite of dog or any way, my dear ’ I liked 



236 


PRECIOUS BANE 


that But when I come to think of it, 'twas Sarn said 
that to Janas Beguildy. What a lover the man must 
be. You must be mam fond of him, Prue Sarn.” 
“Oh, yes,” I said, all m a flush, “I be ” 

“Indeed yes, and only what you should be Good 
feeling he has too, about the choice of texts, and 
Jancis the same For that text, 'The Maister be come/ 
was in the letter Jancis wrote to me, as well as m the 
one Sarn wrote to Jancis ” 

“Only natural,” I said 

“I'm coming to Sam's love-carriage, and I'll be 
bound to thank him for his kind thoughts about the 
sewing and the damson cheese and the pickle,” he said. 

“Oh, dunna!” I cried out, knowing how angry 
Gideon would be. 

“There's a grudging girl,” he says, “not wanting 
her brother to be thanked ” 

He had a look of satisfaction on his face, as if he'd 
found out what he wanted to know 
“Well, it's no use iftmg and andmg any more,” he 
says “You wrote the letters, and you made 'em up. 
And all I can say is, the chap you were thinking of 
when you said the things you did say is a lucky chap, 
whoever he is ” 

“I hanna got an acquaintance.” 

“Dear me ! That's pity, to my mind. But anyway, 
you've got a friend. You write in your book, when 
you go back, that Kester Woodseaves is your friend 
till Time stops.” 

I thanked him very kindly for that, and then he 
said, should we go and look for some more dragon- 
flies coming out of their shrouds? So we did, and 



DRAGON-FLISS 


237 


had a tidy bit of talk, one way or another, about this 
and that We watched the dragon-flies take off from 
the tops of the rushes, and we saw the water simmer- 
ing in its troubling, and the lilies looking at their 
angels 

But it was a long time before I remembered to say, 
how did he know about my book that I wrote in ? For 
it seemed I couldna remember anything very well 
when he was by 

“Well,” he says, “maybe a bird told me. Or an old 
ancient woman like a little bird.” 

“But how did you get to know all the other things 
you do seem to know about me ?” 

“Well,” he said, “there's a tuthree people know 
you, Prue. And there's few know you and dunna 
love you And I expect I’ve been leasing in their 
hearts a bit And I think there’s not much that I 
dunna know about you, Prue ” 

There was rest m that saying. And oh, the summer 
in his voice, then and always f I forgot the time and 
all Yes, indeed to goodness, I forgot milking time! 
But when I saw the light of evening long upon the 
mere, and heard the evening breezes lifting up the 
leaves in the forest, I turned to go. Then he said — 

“There’s a tiling I’m bound to ask you ” 

He stood looking straight into my eyes, for we 
were almost of a height, though he was a little the 
taller. 

^What for did you do all you did for me that day 
at the baiting he said “What for did you stand 
above me with the knife, and run to Lullingford and 
all, to save me ? ” 



23 § 


PRECIO US BANE 


There was a deep silence, with only the lifting of 
£he summer boughs, the lapping of the quiet water. 
How was I to answer ? Yet he would have an answer, 
I could see 

Then I thought, seeing the lilies looking at their 
angels, how I’d called myself Kester’s angel at the 
baiting 

“Why, it was only that I was your angel for that 
day/' I said at long last “A poor daggly angel too 99 

“If you’re ever wanting an angel’s situation, you 
can send to me for a written character,” he said, and 
though his words were merry, his eyes were as grave 
as grave could be. And then, as we said good night 
and I turned home, he called out after me — “Not sc 
daggly, neither !” 

And I could hear him laughing m the wood. 



Book Four 


chapter one: Harvest Home 

^TEVER in all my days did I see a corn harvest like 
that one. We started swiving, that is reaping, 
at the beginning of August-month, and we left the 
stooks standing in the fields till it should be time for 
the love-carriage, for the weather was so fine that they 
took no harm. It was the custom, if a farmer hadna 
much strength about him, that he should fix on a da;y 
for the neighbours to come and give a hand in the 
lugging of the gram. But up to that time, the weather 
being so good, we worked alone. It was up in the 
morning early, and no mistake! Such mornings as 
they were, too, with a strong heady sweetness in the 
air from the ripened corn, and the sun coming up 
stately as a swan into the vasty sky that had no cloud. 
Mother was very peart and lively, what with the hot 
weather, which was good for the rheumatics, and the 
thought of the easing-off of the work which was to 
come when the harvest was gotten in. She'd be up 
and about at five, getting us our breakfast, and then 
off we'd go, with only just enough of clo'es on to be 
decent, and with our wooden harvest bottles full of 
small beer. We always had a brewing for the rep, 

n 



240 


PRECIOUS BANE 


that is, the reaping. This year we brewed a deal 
more, for there'd be all the neighbours to find in 
victuals and drink at the love-carriage. Looking 
back, it always seems to me that there was a kind 
of dwelling charm on all that time. Gideon was more 
contented than I've ever seen him, for there were two 
things that contented him, namely, to work till he 
dropped, and to finish what he set out to do. To see 
all his farm set with these rich stooks, sound and ripe,* 
with never a sign of the weevil nor of mildew nor the 
smut, was very life to him He was all of a fever to 
get it safe in stack, but we were bound to wait til! 
the day fixed. Jancis was to come on that day, to 
help in the leasing And it seemed to me as she ought 
to go atop of the last load with blossoms about her, 
like the image they were used to set up there, for she 
seemed a part of the harvest, with all that pink and 
gold 

As for me, I went all dazed and dumb with wonder. 
To think it was true. "The Maister be come!” To 
think as he'd looked at me and hadna hated me! To 
think as all that time we spent in the midst of the 
painted dragon-flies by the mere was true, as true as 
daily bread ! When I called to mind the things he'd 
said, and still more the things he'd looked, I was like 
to swound Dear to goodness, how I did sing, those 
early dawns, when the dews lay heavy after a ketch of 
frost, and the corn rustled and stirred in the wind of 
morning ! 

When we went out, the leaves of the late-blooming 
white clover would be folded tight, and the shepherd's 
hour- lass shut. I'd wa*ch them, in the minutes I 



AR VEST HOME 


241 


took for rest, opening soft and slow like timid hearts. 
Then Mother would come with our nooning, creeping 
over the fields in her black like a little sad-coloured 
bird, and sometimes singing Barley Bridge in her 
old, small voice, that yet was sweet. Then, after the 
noon-spell, through the long, blazing evening, (for 
with us all the time after noon is calling evening) Td 
watch the shepherd’s hour-glass shutting up again, 
and the white clover leaves, folding as the dews came. 
We took turns to go whome and milk, then we’d have 
our tea in the field, and at it again All the while I 
thought of Kester, as would soon be working at the 
coloured weaving in the great city. But when my 
heart said he was working for me as well as hisself, I 
hushed it, saying that it was but his flaming look that 
made me think it, for he hadna said it, and so it was 
only that the wish fathered the thought But I did 
dream of the fifty pounds I was to have, a great for- 
tune, it seemed. And I did plan how I’d get to be 
cured as quick as might be, so when Kester came back 
after his time away I’d stand afore him with as proper 
face as even Felena, though I hoped not so forrard. 
At last the day of the love-carriage came, and a 
tremendous blue day it was, with a sky like a dark 
bowl, Worcester china colour. We’d got fifty people 
coming, no less, counting the women-folk I was up 
afore dawn getting all ready, setting the china, both 
ours and what we’d borrowed, on the trestles in the 
orchard, helping Gideon to put the casks of beer in the 
yard, ready for the men to fill their harvest bottles, 
and fetching water from the well for the tea. The 
orchard was a sight to see when the trestles were set 



242 PRECIOUS BAJSTE 

out (for I could put all ready with no fear of rain on 
such a day) with the mugs and platters of many 
colours, and the brown quartern loaves, and the big 
pats of butter stamped with a swan, and the slabs of 
honeycomb, dough cakes, gingerbread, cheese, jam and 
jelly, let alone the ham at one end of each trestle and 
the round of beef at the other Even Gideon didna 
begrutch the food on this day. For it was one of the 
laws you couldna break, that at a love-carriage every- 
body must have his bellyful 

It was very early when the waggons began to roll 
into the fold, with a solemn gladsome sound, and each 
with its own pair of horses or oxen Each farmer 
brought his own men and his own waggon, and some- 
times he brought two. The teams were decked out 
with ribbons and flowers, and some had a motto as well, 
such as, “Luck to our Day,” or “God bless the Corn ” 
It was a fine thing to see the big horses, with great 
manes on their fetlocks, groomed till they shone like 
satin, stepping along as proud as Lucifer, knowing 
very well how long the waggoner had been, a-plaitmg 
their ribbons. The oxen were good to see also, for 
their horns were all bedecked, and about their necks 
were thick chains of Sweet William and Travellers’ 
Joy and corn. Miller came among the first, with 
his gig and the old coach horse, the best he had, poor 
man And very good work they did, too, for it’s sur- 
prising what a deal you can get onto a gig if you put 
a set of wings on top. 

It was time for me to go and give the folks wel- 
come, so I got Miller’s Tim to mind the trestles, and 
J v ft him with a big meat patty, sitting at the top Gf 



FARVES1 HOME 


24 , 


one of the tables, with half the patty in one cheek 
ready to drive away birds and cats and dogs, and evei 
goblins out of fairyland, after the patty The ox 
driver from Plash had dizened his beasts up propei 
with bulrushes nodding on their horns, and there wei 
Sukey and Moll each riding one. Their mother wasn 
coming till late, and they were wild as mountai: 
finches. Then came Felena, riding the shepherd’ 
rough pony, with the panniers to put her leasings ir 
When I saw those green eyes of hers shining hk 
jewels in her brown face, all flushed with summei 
and the long, slim shoulders of her, and that re< 
mouth, I almost hoped Kester would forget to com 
after all. Missis Beguildy and Jancis came, bn 
Beguildy wouldna The cousin from Lulhngford tha 
got the toothache so bad came, and his missus. The 
there were Callards, all packed in a great harves 
warn, and a net over the five children, so that the 
looked for all the world like little calves on the wa 
to market. Granfeyther Callard sat by his soi 
dressed out in his best snuff-coloured coat, and hi 
beaver hat, for all it was so hot There was a pos 
in his hat, which he waved like a lad as they cam 
creaking in at the fold gate, shouting — 

“Harroost* Harroost! Never was such Go 
A’mighty’s weather !” 

He always said harroost, it being the old way c 
saying harvest. Then came Sexton, tall and blacl 
d bit sour, but the best man of his age with a pik< 
anywhere round Missis Sexton had a vast apron c 
blue gingham, with pockets, for leasing, and it mac 
her look bigger than ever. It did seem a blasphem 



244 


PRECIOUS BANE 


to speak of her leasing, as if Solomon in all his glory 
had put on an apron and gathered up the ears. 

Tiwy was dressed out very grand, as often was the 
way of girls at such “dos” as this, for a “do” was a 
thing that came but seldom, and where else but church, 
where all but bonnets was swallowed by the pew, could 
you show your gown with the flounces, or your gown 
that was cut low ? 

Tiwy had a straw bonnet with quilled muslin 
under, a sprigged gown cut low with a rose at the 
breast, white stockings and new black sandal-shoes 
Jancis was pretty past telling m her blue poplin and a 
sunbonnet, and Sukey and Moll had tight frocks of 
white cotton with red roses sprinkled on them 

The Callard children ran about like a clutch of 
chickens when you empty ’em out of the basket, but 
Miller’s Tim was as mim as a mute, feeling so grand 
to be trusted with all the feast to mind Missis Miller 
and Polly, I may say, came first of all, and there was 
Miller’s man as well, and Sexton’s Sammy, a queer, 
long lad like an eel, with twice as many teeth as he 
wanted, and a power of texts in his head that ud fly 
out at you on every excuse, and hit you like a startle- 
de-buz will on a summer evening It seemed as if all 
the texts his dad had ever read had lodged in his big 
head, and so he’d always got one pat. 

“Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest to send 
down labourers into His harvest,” he says But the 
publican from the Mug o’ Cider, whose missus was 
looking after the bar so he could come, Gideon being 
like to be a good customer in the future, catched him 
tip very quick. 



HARVEST HOME 


245 


"Dunna begin the prayers till I’ve had a quart, lad,” 
lie says, '‘for they might be answered, you being 
Sexton’s lad, and I’m welly parched.” 

The men gathered together by the beer barrels, and 
as more came, they went and got their beer Towler 
came, and shepherd, Felena’s maister, a tall, brown 
man, all bones, striding with his long kibba, which is 
a stick of six foot or so, to walk with, held about 
the middle 

"Well, shepherd!” pipes up Granfeyther Callard, 
"han you seed the sun dance yet, Easter morning, on 
thy mountain 

Shepherd took no notice, for being with the dumb 
sheep so much, he was pretty near as silent as the 
miller, though not quite, for nobody could be But 
the father of Moll and Sukey said — 

"Nay, but ’tis his missus sees the moon dance, mid- 
summer, as we know well ” 

"When she dances with the devil 1 ” screeched 
Sukey 

"And not the devil only,” says Missis Sexton. 

Felena didna seem to care She was standing by 
me, and she whispered that she’d liefer dance, who- 
ever it was with, and be jimp and souple, than be as 
stiff as a tombstone like Missis Sexton. 

"She brought him up into the high place of Baal, 
Numbers twenty-two,” said Sammy. And after that 
there didna seem anything more to say about it 

Gideon came up to settle each man’s work, and he 
looked right well in his nice clean smock, well 
broidered, with the sleeves rolled up to show his great 
arms, and a pikel over shoulder. 



246 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“Now, Gaffer*” pipes up old Callard. “What bin 
’e going to give I to do?” 

“You shall go atop of the waggon I sarve,” says 
Sexton, “if ye promise to take as quick as I chuck ” 

There was a laugh, for nobody ever liked the job of 
settling the sheaves Sexton heaved, he being the 
quickest heaver anywhere round, and never tiring 

“Oh,” says Mug o’ Cider, “we’ll put you on the 
leader of the foremost waggon for a lucky image, 
wunna we, lads? You can holler Haw-woop ? and 
Jiggm t and be a sight more use than any of us ” 

The old man took this as a great compliment, and 
nought would do but his son must help him up there 
and then 

“Well, lads,” says Gideon, “we’d best be shifting if 
we’re to bring the harvest whome this day ” 

“Harroost ! Harroost *” calls out old Callard 
“ Haw-whoop 1” 

Obedient to the word, the lead-horse went forrard, 
and all the waggons and carts moved slow past the 
house Mother stood on the door-sill, nodding and 
smiling, and saying — 

“Thank you for us, I’m sure! My son Sarn’ll be 
obleeged to ye ” 

So we went out under the blue sky to lug home the 
com, the big waggons with solid wheels rolling over 
the stubble, Granfeyther Callard shouting “Jiggm t” 
when he meant “Haw-woop 1 ” being quite tipsy with 
enjoyment, and causing a great confusion, the horses 
not knowing what to do. The rest of us followed 
on, strung out over the fields in bright colours, chil- 
dren and dogs running hither and thither, while i 



HARVEST HOME 


24) 


the rickyard the men told off to make the stacks put 
the logs m place ready for the stacks to be built on, 
got all prepared against the first waggon came back 
loaded high with gram, and then stood leaning on 
their pikels, talking over the work of the coming day, 
each man as busy about the planning of it all as if the 
harvest was his'n, and each man as glad of the gram 
as if he was to have the selling of it For that was 
the manner of the love-carriages in time past 

In the noon-spell I went up to the high pasture, to 
see if there was any sign of Kester He was coming 
across the far meadows, by a field path, and I stayed 
so long watching him, who was all the world to me, 
that they'd started work again afore I went back 
It was a pretty thing to see, in such a place, on such 
a day. The farm being all under corn now, it looked 
like a boss of gold in the dark woods and meadows 
around And all the bright colours of the women’s 
gowns, the creamy smocks and a tuthree coloured 
shirts of the men, the shining horses and deep- 
coloured oxen, the yellow stocks with blue shadows 
under, the towering yellow loads on the wains, made 
up such a picture as you wunna often see in a lifetime, 
anyway m these days 

It was merry to hear, also The voices rang so 
sweet m the thin, still air I could hear old Callard’s 
“Haw-woopi” and T Jiggm f ” and the other men's 
shouts, and Jancis laughing out high and sweet at 
summat Gideon did say, and the children crying out, 
“Mother, I’ve gotten two pinnies full now*” “Mam, 
I've found six ears together From the rickyard 
came the far calls of the rickmakers, and, times, a 



248 


PRECIOUS BANE 


pigeon cooed in the deep woods, where the mere lay 
like glass, and, times, a jay would scold, or a wood- 
pecker laugh out Never a cloud was m the sky, nor 
any hint of trouble m the little airs that stirred m the 
leavy hedges And there, two fields off, one field off, 
and now in the same field, was the man I could never 
think about but in those words, “The Maister be 
come 99 

From a long way off he saw me, and waved his 
hat, so that the well-shapen head I did love was bare, 
with the dark hair just so upon it, that you must long 
to stroke it. 

I came down from the high pasture and stood 
beside Gideon's waggon, knowing that Kester would 
tome to get his orders from the maister of the day 

There was some chaff, Kester being so late 

“Weaver's forgot the day and come to-morrow 
instead !" 

“Dunna be so forrard, Weaver, come on Plough 
Monday f " 

“He bin late, but he bin full of power and might 
and young blood," said old Callard, for nobody of 
that family would ever hear a word against Kester 

“The last shall be fust, and the fust last, Matthew 
twenty," says Sammy 

“Luck to the day, Gaffer f" Kester called to Gideon. 

“And thank you kind for coming," answers Gideon. 

“What be I to do?" 

“Ever done any harvesting?" 

“Ah " 

“Can ye pitch?" 

“Ah ” 



H ARVES T HO E 


249 


“Well then, you take my place a bit while I go th$ 
rounds, oot? Sexton’s tother side from you, and he’s 
a terrible quick pitcher. But you canna be too quick 
for young Callard and Towler ” 

“But mind not to push pikel too fur when the load 
be low,” called old Callard, “for I mind once a fellow 
did that, and he stuck it right into the chap atop. Ah ! 
like a piece of toast on toasting-fork he was, poor 
fellow, and hollered so that the team bolted, ooth the 
pikel still in.” 

But Kester did very well and made toast of none. 
His eyes would laugh at me now and again, and once, 
when the empty waggon tarried, he came where I was 
leasing, and said — 

“You still go frommet me a bit, I see, Prue Sarn 
It raun be toerts, not frommet ” 

I put the ears this way and that way, but no words 
came 

Then he said, slow, with a laugh at the back of 
his voice, but with a cosseting sound as well — 

“There, there, my dear! None shall touch you 
ow!” 

All the strong life of the man was gathered in his 
eyes, and blazing full on me. So he’d heard! Folk 
do sometimes when they seem nigh dead He’d heard 
and remembered the words I’d said when his head 
was on my bosom and my heart was all rent with! 
love. What could I say? Nought Where could I 
hide my burning face, that his eyes did so dwell on? 
Nowhere at all. 

“Hi, Weaver 1” they called. “Waggon be come and 
we be hindered for ye f ” 



PRECIOUS BANE 


Z5O 

“1 never knew a mother's love, nor yet a sister's, 
nor yet a sweetheart's " He said it ever so softly, 
but despert earnest, so that the words burnt m “Rut 
if I had, I should have forgot 'em all three when you 
said those words to me, Prue Sarn 

With that, he turned sharp and went back to the 
waggon 

What a day that was! Gold ? I should think it 
was gold! I leased and leased, and it was just as if 
every armful was some precious, heavenly treasure. 
Nearly all the fields were clean and bare when we had 
our tea under the hedge shade, for it grew no cooler 
as the shadows lengthened, being one of those mid- 
September days when all the gathered warmship of 
the summer seems to be spent and squandered in love 
of the golden grain. 

The sun was low in heaven and the harvest-beer 
low in cask when Mother banged the tray for me to 
come and help with the urns for supper. They were 
loading the last waggon, and I told Tim, who'd been 
a good, faithful watcher, that he could go to the field 
and ride home atop along with the other children, m 
the triumph Then we brought out the urns, and the 
cask of home-brewed, very strong and good, and set 
about cutting up the meat and bread 

We heard 'em shouting from the fields, and in a 
while there it came, the biggest waggon, with Jancis's 
white oxen and the oxen from Plash lugging it, Gran- 
feyther Callard driving, all the children on top, and 
Jancis with them, waving green boughs and bunches 
of poppies, and Gideon, looking taller than customary 
in his smock, walking glad and solemn beside the load. 



HARVEST HOME 


251 


Deary me, how the tears do spring! Tears like 
Mother and I shed then, for the joy of it all, and 
other tears, for what came to pass after For if in 
the mid of that great golden day you’d sent a sough 
of wind, and a mutter, and black clouds running up 
the sky, and darkness and thunder and forkit light- 
ning, it couldna have been worse nor less expected than 
the storm that broke on us so soon. 

The waggon came on, and all the people followed, 
singing and shouting, till they came to the gate of the 
rickyard. 

There stood Parson, with Mother and me close 
by, to bless the com. 

“People he said, “let us give thanks for daily 
bread !” 

And all the people said — 

“We give thanks unto the Lord.” 

“God bless the corn and the master of Sam,” says 
Parson, “and may his good deeds return unto him 
as doves to their mountains ” 

“Amen !” said the people 

“Missis Sarn bids me say that the feast is spread 
in the orchard, and all are welcome,” said Parson 

Gideon stepped forrard. 

“The harvest’s whome, friends, and thank ye 
kindly,” he said “Let every man who’s lent a hand 
claim task work of me from this on, till I’ve paid my 
debt ” 

We sate at the trestles in the long light of sunset 
At least, the company did, but we at the urns were 
kept busy enough and hadna much time to sit down 

“Well, Weaver,” says Mug o’ Cider, “I hear tell as 



252 


PRECIOUS BANE 


they’re making it pretty warm for ye, for stopping 
the bull-baiting. But I bear no grutch, I’m sure ” 

“Nor yet me I like a man that likes a dawg,” says 
Towler 

“Nor yet me,” says Mister Callard from the next 
table 

“But there’s some not to hold nor to bind,” said 
Mug o’ Cider “I hear ’em in the bar, nights Oh, 
I say nought! Landlord’s a dumb dog with pricket 
ears Ah f That’s landlord But they mean ye no 
good, Weaver It’ll go hard but they’ll take thy 
work away if they can And if they can do a spite 
to you and yours, they ool. They’ve worked on 
Squire, too.” 

“I know, thank ye kindly all the same,” said Kester 
“It was Squire I was hindered for to-day He wanted 
to buy my cottage. Nothing would do but he must 
buy it He knows very well that if he did he’d soon 
turn me out of the place, for all the rest belong to 
him or friends of his’n Offered me a deal of money, 
did Squire ” 

“Shall you consider it over?” 

“Dear to goodness, no ! I shall bide ” 

There was something very pleasant to me in the 
way he said that It was as if he budded a tower of 
refuge afore my eyes He met go for a little while, 
a year even, but for his life-long he’d bide And it 
was only fifteen mile away, and less as the crow 
flies 

“And you'd best look out, too, Prue Sara,” says 
Mug o’ Cider “Grimble took it very ill, you knifing 
his dawg. Not but what you did it well, I must say 



HARVEST HOME 


253 


I m sure any farmer as kills his own meat ud be glad 
of ye, or you met go for a doctor’s mon and do right 
well ” 

“Mine said she couldna believe it when Prue Sarn 
drave the knife m,” went on the landlord. “Thought 
she’d seen a ghostly vision, her did Said a feather 
would have knocked her down, her did Which shows 
it must have bm pretty bad for it inna easy to knock 
the missus down, she’s like a bouncing ball ” 

“I do wish I’d been there,” said Sukey. “I’d have 
knifed the dog for ye in a minute, Mister Woods- 
eaves What did I give ye at the Beguildy’s love- 
spinning, Mister Woodseaves?” 

“Play kiss in the ring with us after, Mister 
Woodseaves!” says Moll. “You kiss right well, I 
know !” 

Felena leant forrard across the narrow table. 

“Oot play?” she said. “Oot play, Weaver?” 

Just then there was a call from the next table. 

“Husht, husht f Sexton’s going to say a few 
words ” 

When Sexton spoke, the four walls of the church 
seemed to grow up round you, and you could smell 
the damp, musty smell of it, and hear the flies plaining 
in the windows For whether he was reading, “He 
took unto him a wife and begat Ammadab,” or “The 
golden bowl be broken,” or speaking at a harvest 
supper, it was all the same 

“Friends,” says Sexton, “we’ve had a good day. 
I'm sartin there’s not a man among us as hanna 
sweated proper, even Granfeyther Callard has, I’ll be 
bound ” 



254 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“Oh, ah ! I sweated right well!” calls out the old 
man, very pleased. 

“And now we be enjoying good victuals and drink, 
and after that a game or two — ” 

“The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up 
to play, Exodus thirty-two.” 

This was Sammy 

Sexton looked very angrily at his missus, as much 
as to say — 

“Stop Sammy!” and she said — 

“Husht, Sammy! Feyther’s speaking. Dunna you 
forget as you can only call to mind other folks’ words, 
but Feyther makes it all up new as he goes on ” 

She settled down again to watching Sexton, for all 
the world like a cat watching a whirring wheel. 

“I say we’ve had a good day, and Sarn’s had a good 
harvest, and I ask ye for why? Because he’s indus- 
trious, people, and his sister’s industrious, and his 
mother’s industrious You couldna find in ten 
parishes a more industrious family Not like some I 
could mention, as never do a hand’s turn, coddling 
about with old ancient wicked books Ah! There’s 
some I could mention, as I dunna see the face of here 
to-day, that a bit of work would be the saving of. 
Well, neighbours, we all know as God helps those that 
help theirselves, and when we look at all them grand 
ricks of gram, I’m sure we see it’s true And we wish 
you well, Sarn And I’m in behopes the young 
woman’ll be industrious too For I hear tell the next 
randy we come to at Sarn is to be a wedding And 
may it bring more prosperation and not less, though 
of course we may think our thoughts, knowing where 



harvest home 


255 


she's from and what's bred in the bone'll come out m 
the flesh — " 

But fortunately there was a stir when he got to that,, 
and a call from the other tables — 

'There's two riders at the gate." 

And there was the young squire, and Miss Dora- 
bella with him They rode across the orchard, and 
the young man called out, "Give you good evening, 
folks, and luck to the corn !" 

For he was ever hail-fellow-well-met with all men, 
111 say that for un, and it made him well liked. 

Miss Dorabella seemed quite to forget she'd 
quarrelled with Gideon. She drew up by his table 
and smiled, sparkling her black eyes 

"Well, Sara," she said, "you've worked your will 
with the farm, I see. You've got a desperate good 
crop. Are you going to offer us a drink of harvest 
beer, to drink your health?" 

I could see she admired him for a strong man, which 
he was. I never met but one stronger. And I could 
see that the Squire had told her to make it up with 
Gideon, and very likely sent young Mister Camperdine 
to see she did it for it was common property that 
she'd sarved him wi' sauce at the Mug o' Cider , and 
the Squire couldna afford to lose a man that was like 
to do well. Gideon looked at her straight and sullen, 
but she kept on smiling for all that, a bit conquering 
and a bit pleading Then they gave her up the best 
pewter measure full of ale, and she says — 

"Health and prosperation, Sarn ! " 

Then she tossed it off, for she could drink ale with 
ny man, and in those days it wunna so long since ale 



256 PRECIOUS BANE 

was a lady’s only breakfast drink Then she gave 
back the measure and leaned down, holding out her 
hand, stripping off the grand gauntlet, and she says— 

“Your hand, Sam 1 ” 

Well, he was done then, for he couldna refuse a 
lady’s hand So he took it in his great fist, and young 
Mister Camperdme nodded, as if to say she’d done 
enough now, and she put on her glove again. All 
the while I saw Jancis looking at her in a way that 
meant she was frit of her, and also that she couldna 
abide her. But looking at Miss Dorabella, with that 
sort of stony handsomeness she’d got, and then at 
Jancis, so soft and pinky-sweet, it didna seem to me 
that Jancis had much to be afraid of. They gave 
young Mister Camperdme some ale then, and when 
he’d wished well and drunk it, he said — 

“I thought maybe Beguildy was here, but I don’t 
glimpse him.” 

Missis Beguildy stood up and curtsied 

“No, sir, he mna here, though a should be. And 
you’d best not look for ’im at home, sir, for I doubt 
you wouldna find ’im. But if you come to-day’s a 
week — ” 

I thought that was right clever of Missis Beguildy. 
She wanted to give Gideon and Jancis time, and to 
keep the young gentleman away as long as she durst, 
while she thought how to manage Beguildy. 

“Right!” calls out the young fellow as they rode 
off 

“To-day week, and mind Venus is there!” 

Jancis began to giggle at that She always did at 
?ny mention of the silly affair. And it seemed so 



HARVEST HOME 


257 


funny to her that he should be enquiring so anxious 
after the very woman his cousin had sarved wi' sauce, 
and she at table all the while But I crouched down 
on the bench, to seem short, and not to let him see my 
shape, so that Jancis went off into a fit ot laughter 
again, and said I looked for all the world like a broody 
hen We had some sport together over the young 
squire Then up came Missis Beguildy, very put- 
about, wondering what to do with Beguildy till the 
wedding day was safely come. All of a sudden she 
thought of summat, and laughed and slapped herself 
till I thought she'd be took ill. 

“Dear now, I’ve thought of it !” she says. “Til ask 
my cousin from Lullingford, as is here by the mercy 
of God, to send a message to my maister this very 
night, to say as hers is took ill (I mun think what he's 
to have. Summat cruel bad!) and as there's no cure 
but the old famous cure, to eat seven loaves baked at 
one baking by the seventh child of a seventh child, 
and she's to offer good money (you can pay after you 
be wed, Jancis, for you'll be having butter-money or 
summat) and off he'll go, dang-swang, to look for a 
seventh of a seventh, and it'll go hard but we'll be i 
peace till Michaelmas ” 

“Oh, mother," says Jancis, giving her a kiss, “you'd 
ought to have been a great general to ride along with 
Lord Wellington and lay traps for Frenchmen 1 " 

It was all fixed up before the games and dancing 
began, and I felt sorry for Beguildy till I remembered 
what a wicked old man he was, wanting to sell his 
child unwilling 

By this it was near dark, and the moon rising, big 



258 


PRECIOUS BAN 


and raddled. They got together a dozen fellows, 
mostly middle-aged or old, to whistle for the dancing. 
They danced m the rickyard, among the stacks of 
golden corn, sweeping up the straw with besoms first. 
Old Callard had been chosen for a whistler, and very 
proud he was, for being the oldest he chose the tunes 
and set the measure, and so he could feel that all the 
merry life in a manner depended on him, which is 
pleasing to old folks 

“Barley Bridge 1” he says. 

The pretty tune sounded out clear on the quiet air. 

I was standing under one of the stacks, watching. 
It was a gay thing to see Gideon was dancing, hold- 
ing Jancis close and strong Missis Sexton was sail- 
ing about, and Felena too, jimp as a fairy Even 
Mother made shift to dance a few steps 

The twelve were whistling like a nest of throstles* 
Sitting 111 one of the empty waggons — 

“Open the gates as wide as the sky 99 

when Kester found me 

“So that’s where vou be/’ he said “Not dancing ?” 

“No ” 

“For why ? ” 

“I amna like other girls ” 

Tie considered that Then he said — 

“W ell, I mun be going I’m off to prentice myself 
for ten months to learn the coloured weaving in 
London Town Then I can do piecework at home, 
and care nothing for Grimble and his gang Coloured 
weaving brings in a tidy bit. and I’ll send it by coach 
every few months ” 



HARVEST HOME 


^59 


“When’ll you be raught back 1 ” I said, as if I was 
drowning 

“I'll be back for next August fair, and I’ll come and 
talk with you a bit then, Prue Sara.” 

“Maybe you’ll forget ” 

“I dunna think so ” 

“Well, God bless ye,” I says. 

“And you ” 

He turned to go Then he turned back 
“But it’s foolish in you not to dance,” he says “A 
wench with a figure like an apple-blow fairy 
He gi’d a little laugh and went 
So he knew about Venus! Oh, I was shamed and 
dumbfounded! I was angry with Jancis too, for she 
must have told him, though she never would confess 
it, but giggled and said he must have noticed my nice 
shape through my clo’es, so that I was more shamed 
and vexed than ever 

Mother was tired and wanted me to help her to 
bed After, I looked from her window on to the nck- 
yard, that had been void, but for one big haystack, 
all peopled now with dark shapes As I stood there, 
Gideon and Jancis suddenly came round the corner of 
the house, and as they went by, slow and seeing 
nought but each other, I plainly heard Gideon say, 
“Nay, Jancis, I’ll make sure of what’s mine To- 
morrow night when your father’s gone, come down 
and let me m ” 

I didna hear her answer, for they were past the 
window then, and besides, I drew back, for I canna 
abide an eavesdropper So that was m his mind f He 
couldna trust his dear love even for a sennight I 



26 o 


PRECIOUS BANE 


thought, well, maybe it was no harm, for they would 
be wed so soon And indeed, whether it was agen the 
church or no, I was bound to be glad that Gideon 
should show any human feeling Times, he seemed 
like a frozen man When all were gone, and the 
chattels fetched m out of the dew, it was getting on 
towards dawn So I went up to the attic and wrote 
m my book But first I took a sheet of paper and put 
down m very neat writing — 

“A figure like an apple-blow fairy ” 

“ ’Twas me he meant,” I said over and over, “poor 
Prue Sarn ! ” 

And a glow began in my heart, warm and pleasant 
a? a gledy fire. For what is there in this earth, or in 
heaven, if it comes to that, like the knowledge that 
you've found favour m the eyes of him that is your 
dear acquaintance, and the Maister? I left off won- 
dering what he thought of my hare-shotten lip, for 
indeed it seemed he thought of it not at all I called 
to mind a thing he’d said while we watched the 
dragon-flies, about sin He said if you thought of it 
rightly it just wunna there It was gone like the 
dirouds of the dragon-flies when they’d wrostled free 
IVhat did you want to go hunting about after the 
Shroud for, when you could look at the bright fly? 
Maybe that was how he thought of me My poor 
hideous lip was, as it were, my sin, though a kind of 
innicent wickedness It was my sin, and all the rest 
of me was my righteousness, and my glory, and the 
way I made him glad I cried a long while for very 
joy, and such a rushing happiness went through me 
as seemed to make all the blood in my veins new, and 



I felt as if it was so pure and strong it might even 
cure me of my ill There was some truth in it, too, 
for my lip did never look quite so bad from that day. 

Morning came fresh and sweet, and the rooks went 
streaming out across the windy sky, to our stubble, 
with sleepy, contented caws falling scattered here and 
there On the way to milk I stopped by the rickyard 
to give thanks for the corn Why then in that hour 
did I think of those words, “The precious lane”? 
Why did I think of that which men will garner with 
their harvest, and treasure, though it is as fire-grass in 
a haystack ? Why did a cold boding horror stir in 
my heart, where all was gay and warm, as a catch 
of frost will strike m your garden plot of an autumn 
evening, when the dahlias are at their proudest — wine- 
colour and clear gold, every quill in place, blooming 
high above the wall, with bees about them — so that 
in the morning all is winter-sad? 



chapter two: Beguildy Seeks a Seventh Chili 


T HAT very evening, so Jancis told us next day, 
Missis Beguildy gave the pretended message, 
and the day after the love-carriage Beguildy set out, 
full of importance, with his ash-wood kibba, to find 
the seventh child and bring back the bread I said it 
did seem a shame to deceive the poor man so, but 
Jancis said, “No danger * It makes him happy, and 
we'll give him the money if he finds the seventh child, 
so what more is to do ? ” 

She was looking as pretty as a pink, was Jancis. 
She stayed a bit, to help in the washing-up, and then 
she sat m the kitchen while I worked, sewing a seam 
in her wedding clo'es After tea when she was going, 
Gideon said — 

“Mind you dunna forget 1” 

She coloured up as pink as codlins-and-cream, and 
ran along the wood-path After supper Gideon said, 
careless like, “If I be late, Prue, and you want to go 
to bed, put the key over stable door ” 

I said I would, and no more But I saw him shav- 
ing hisself very particular, and putting on his Sunday 
stock, so I knew that whatever date parson met have 
got fixed for the wedding, the wedding was now, and 
I fetched a rose for his coat He looked very bashful 
over that, but I said that when a fellow went to see 
his girl so soon afore the wedding he must always 

262 



A SEVENTH CHILD 263 

wear a flower. That seemed to make it all right, 
thinking I guessed nought, and off he went, whistling 
loud and clear, up the wood path where the leaves 
were turning rusty, and sighs were sounding here and 
there, and the airs breathing autumn, and the brown 
cobs falling with little thuds, for lads to play conquer 
to their own let and hindrance Sad, and very sad I 
thought it m the wood path when Gideon’s tall figure 
was passed away, and the mere lapped, and the boat 
was knocking on the steps, and an owl hooting Why 
was it so sad, I wondered, when the wedding was 
fixed so soon, and the glory loses blooming, corn safe 
housed, and m my ow r n heart the Maister come* Yet 
there was that about the evening which you feel when 
summat has died. I went the rounds to see if all was 
well. Mother was asleep, brown and small and peace- 
ful in the big bed. Bendigo was m stable, very com- 
fortable, for he was old and nesh, and we fetched him 
m before October. All was well, and I wondered 
what the harm was, that I felt m the air I was to 
know afore long, though for a little while things kept 
on as usual Every night I put the key m the stable, 
but said nought Every morning Gideon’s bed was 
all tossed and tumbled, but I knew very well he hadna 
slept m it He whistled about the place as merry as 
any other man, not under breath any more I was 
glad for him, and glad to be making ready for Jancis 
They, were to have the guest chamber, which, not hav- 
ing been used for many years, was m very bad repair. 
So I’d bought a few rolls of cheap paper out of the 
butter-money, and I was papering it unbeknown to 
Gideon Mother wa« m the secret, and she’d come 



^64 PRECIOUS BAME 

and clasp her hands and say, “Looks a pretty paper! 
Doing it right well you are, my dear Roses and all! 
Roses be lucky, to my mind Your Aunt Dorcas had 
roses m her bride-chamber, and not one of her chil- 
dren ever died, nor ailed, nor cried. I mind she made 
a joke over that 'Neither die nor cry/ she says I 
hope Sarn’s wunna cry much, for I canna bear to hear 
a child cry Sarn ud roar ever so, it was awful to 
hear un Beat on the cot, a would, summat cruel 
Mun always get what a wanted very quick, but if it 
tarried, he wouldna forget, he’d cry the day long, but 
he’d get it ” 

I’d got the paper on, and I was about putting a bit 
of glazed calico round the dressing-table when Missis 
Reguildy came rushing to our place, like a wild 
woman It was such pleasant weather too, with little 
birds m the new ricks and the first apples falling It 
was early in the morning when she came I’d been 
churning I hadna seen Gideon, for he’d taken a crust 
out into the field where he was ploughing I was in 
the dairy when Missis Beguildy rushed m 

“Oh, my dear*” she cries out “Oh, my dear, the 
orst as could happen’s come to pass ” 

“Goodness me, what?” 

I was frightened to see her lace. 

“He corned back*” 

“Who? Not Mister Beguildy?” 

“Ah J No less And ail going so well. Him away 
till a fortnit anyway I thought And the two of ’em 
so sweet together. I didna think Sarn could be so 
fairspoken to anybody as what he was to me, and 
Jancis like the Queen of the May. 'Mother/ she says. 



A SEV NTH CHIL 


265 


*1 be more gladsome than I thought any could be/ 
Ah, and your brother too It eased him to see that 
his doubts and fears about young Camperdine were 
nought. If I hadna let un come he’d a thought the 
young man was at our place ’Twas the only way. 
The more anybody wants a thing, the more they do 
think others want it. But seeing all was fair and 
square, he was fair and square too 'Mother/ he 
says, for indeed it inna long till I shall be afore Him 
above and all the blessed angels, 'Mother, leave me 
bide the night over from now on, till we be wed. 
Soon, it is/ he says, 'or I wouldna ask it. And her’s 
willing ’ So I gave them our room, and slept on 
Janas’ s box bed in kitchen I put the best dimity 
counterpane on their bed, and the best sheets, without 
a patch, and a tidy bit of drugget on floor, and I killed 
a fowl and made a nice bit of bread sauce, and left 
‘em to their supper, pleasant and to theirselves afore 
the fire, and stayed out till they’d done, though they 
did say as nice as nice as I mun sup with ’em But 
newly wed is newly wed, ring or none And when 
they were abed I’d tidy the place and wash up. And 
I’d just done, and I was setting afore the fire thinking 
of the time when I wed Beguildy, and what a proper 
young man he was, though you’d never think it, and 
deserve my thoughts he didna, the grutching, wicked 
old man I was setting there very peaceful, and 
thinking I must draw the bolt and rake the fire out, 
when there was a little sound without, and in ca 
Beguildy. I could ha’ dropped on floor.” 

"Well, missus,” he says, "where be Jancis?” 

"She be asleep,” I says 



266 


PRECIOUS BAN 


“And since when did ye give the wench our room 
and sleep m box bed ? ” 

With that he rushes m, and there they were ’Twas 
hell let loose, and no mistake He put such a curse 
on Sarn as I never heard nor shall hear 

“And for all you’ve crept in the like of this, you 
shanna have the wench in wedlock,” he says 

“You canna stop it,” says Sarn “No power in 
the ’orld can stop it now ” 

“Yet stop it I will,” says the mester. “Hanna I 
cursed ye by fire and by water ? Hanna I told ye 
you were born under the threepenny planet and canna 
keep money? Hanna I said you’ll be poor in life and 
die in the water? Eh?” 

“Well, it’s a pity for ye, seeing you be a wise man 
and all, to be put in the wrong,” says Sarn, “but 
harvest be m and I be a rich man ” 

“You bmna a tenth nor a hundredth part as rich as 
young squire His pockets be crammed ooth French 
money,” shouts Beguildy “You shanna have my 
girl, Sarn ” 

“I’ve got her, seemingly,” says Sarn, as calm as 
calm could be, and that drave Beguildy right out of 
mind. He puck up the blunderbus as he keeps by the 
window ready for the fox, and he went for your 
brother with the butt end ” 

“Dear to goodness!” 

“You may as well say that, Prue Sarn I screeched 
and Jancis screeched, and I ran in from the kitchen, 
for I’d kept out, thinking Sarn met not like it, him 
being in his night-shirt, and as fine a man as you 
could wish, but not wanting to cause any awkward- 



A EVENTS CHILD 


267 


ness more than already. But afore I could get m, 
Sarn knocked mine fiat on floor, and a lay like a log 
and none deserved it better For a very curst man 
is Beguildy, and obstinate, and bearing ill will year 
after year I do believe the root of the matter is your 
dad asking him for that crown when he J d made mind 
up it was to be a present Ah ! Though mine he is, 
I canna but say he's a terrible man to bear a grutch. 
Well, Sarn knocked un flat, and he says, Take his 
feet, oot, Mother, and we’ll put un m kitchen. For 
whether he’s dead or quick, I’ll not be disturbed any 
more this night.’ Ah He said that. And he says, 
"Swing for it I may, but I wunna be disturbed this 
night ’ Cold and quiet as a frozen mere, but a terrible 
man to rouse, is your brother. So I doused mine with 
water, and I gid him some spirits, and in a while he 
come round, but I took the precaution to tie him to 
the bed afore that He struggled cruel, but it was a 
good rope, and I fed spirits to un regular, and in a 
while he calmed a bit and quietened, and then slept. 
So in the morning your brother went, and I untied the 
*nester, and when he woke up I says, what fetched him 
back? So he says, ill news travels fast, and he sup- 
posed he’d got ears, and he hadna but just got as far 
towards the mountains as Mallard’s Keep when a man 
told un Sarn slept at our place now. Interfering 
meddlers, folks be! So I got him a bit of breakfast 
and he went out Quiet as quiet he be, so I’ve come 
to warn ye, for when he’s quiet-angry he’s deadly ” 

I said, what harm could an old man the like of 
that do, and especially as we knew all his spells and 
What-nots were but foolish games? But it made no 



268 PRECIOUS BANE 

difference, and she only kept on saying there was 
harm brewing, and God send the wedding day quick, 
and she went off home as wild-seeming as she came, 
wringing her hands, with wisps of hair blowing m 
the stormy wind For there was a real tempest blow- 
ing, that had been rising for two or three days, and it 
blew up the loose straws and the chaff m the nckyard 
till the air was full of them, dusty and choking Out 
in the field I had to go close up to Gideon and shout 
afore I could make him hear There was a roar in 
the treetops like the sound of weirs after the snow 
melts, and a howling in the chimneys that made you 
glad of four walls and a roof I said to Gideon when 
we were at our tea, did he think it would blow the tops 
off the stacks ? But he said no, they were well 
weighted It was only two days now till the dealer 
came to price the giain, and only three days after that 
till the wedding Knowing this, and being easy in 
mind about Beguildy, since he’d taken no harm from 
the blow, I listened to the wind very contented, and 
made some rounds of toast, and thought about 
Kester. For I do think there’s nothing makes you 
feel so contented as a roaring wind in the chimney 
when all’s well I said should we go to bed early, and 
Gideon said we might as well, seeing we’d worked 
hard and the harvest was in So we went at eight, 
and I fell asleep in a minute with the sound of the 
loud, dry tempest in my ears 

When I woke, sudden, I thought, “It be the Judg- 
ment!” There was a great light and a roaring, very 
dreadful to hear* and knockings and cries out of the 
\ght I lay there, mazed, saying “ Our Father ” as 



A SEVENTH C H ILD 


269 


fast as I could, and wishing I'd been more regular 
at church. Then I heard Gideon’s voice calling from 
window, and other voices below, and one was the 
voice of Sexton’s Sammy. This comforted me in my 
foolish fear, for I felt as if Sammy would be able 
to think of a text, and mouth it too, even on Judg- 
ment night For night it still was, and early too, 
since we found out after that we'd not been abed much 
more than two hours. Gideon came rushing past my 
door, shouting for me, so I got up and put on my 
clo’es, for I supposed that whether it was the Judg- 
ment or not I’d better wear them, though in the pic- 
tmes the redeemed go in their night rails But I did 
feel that I must wait to get to heaven afore I could 
be at my ease to stand afore Sexton’s Sammy in xy 
night-gown 

I ran downstairs and out, and then I saw I 
thought even the end of the w r orld would have been 
better than that, for then we’d have been provided 
for, with no more harvests to get in nor money to 
gather with pain and labour. It would be the same 
for all in that hour, but this was for us only, and 
crushed us as a waggon wheel crushes an ear of 
wheat. 

For it was the corn burning that made the roaring 
noise. It was the harvest, all of it, the whole garner- 
ing of all those years of work, the very stuff of 
Gideon’s soul, and our future. It was no great comet 
nor flaming star raging across the sky to herald in 
the end of all, no trumpet of an archangel pealing 
and whining along the black night betwixt the 
trembling worlds It was only the corn. Only all we 



270 


PRECIOUS BANE 


had ! Only that which was to make a kindly man, a 
loving man, of our Gideon, since having it he would 
leave slaving by day and dark, and making us all 
slave, and would work only like any other man Only 
the corn, that meant a bit of comfort for Mother, a 
bit of hope for me. Only the corn, that would give 
Jancis dear children, and the place of wife by fireside, 
and a bit of love, maybe. Oh, my soul, it was the 
corn ! I clung to the rickyard gate, and my hair was 
lifted in the fierce-hot wind. There were black figures 
running in the red light, most like a picture of hell, 
but they were nought, and less than nought The 
vasty roaring wind went on, taking the fire with it I 
could see that the thing must have started with the 
barley, that was on the west of the rickyard, whence 
the wind was coming. There was no barley now. 
Where it had been were two great round housen made 
cf white fire, very fearful to see, being of the size and 
shape of the stacks, but made of molten flame. There 
•was no substance in them, and it was marvel how they 
stood so. Now and again a piece of this molten stuff 
would fall inward with no sound, and there could be 
seen within caves of grey ash and red, sullen, 
smouldering fire So it will surely be when the world 
is burned with fervent heat in the end of all It will 
go rolling on, maybe, as it ever has, only it will be no 
more a kindly thing with mists about it, a pleasant 
painted ball with patterns of blue seas and green 
mountains upon its roundness It will be a thing 
rotten with fire as an apple is rotten when the wasps 
have been within, light and empty and of no account. 
So was our barley, falling inwards with no sound, as 



A SEVENTH CHILD 


271 


diough one went here and there within, unseen. It 
was a worse thing to see than if it had fallen down 
in a heap, for being yet a stack, it seemed like a jest 
of some demon, saying — “Well, what is to do? There 
be your stacks of barley! Make barley bread and 
eat ” I looked at those two abodes of demons, of the 
roundness and height of our good barley stacks, and 
I remembered the barley, oh, the sweet barley, rustling 
in the wind of dawn* I called to mind the ploughing 
for it, in such good behopes, and the sowing of it, be- 
tween the sowing of the winter wheat and the sowing 
of the summer wheat, Gideon and me walking up and 
down the fields with the bags of seed slung over 
shoulder, or with a deep round lid to hold enough of 
seed for one crossing of the field there and back, and 
swinging out our arms with a great giving movement, 
as if we were feeding all the world, a tiling I dearly 
loved to see. For reaping, though it is good to watch 
as be all the year’s doings on a farm, is a grutching 
and a grabbing thing compared with sowing You 
must lean out to it and sweep it in to you, and hold 
it to your bosom, jealous, and grasp it and take it. 
There is ever a greediness in reaping with the sickle, 
in my sight There is not in scything, which is a large 
destroying movement without either love or anger in 
it, like the judgments of God. Nor is there in flailing, 
which is a thing full of anger, but without any will or 
wish to have or keep But reaping is all greed, just 
as sowing is all giving For there you go, up and 
down the wide fields, bearing that which you have 
saved with so much care, winnowing it from the chaff, 
and treasurin it for this hour. And though it is all 



272 


PRECIOUS BANE 


you have, you care not, but take it in great handfuls 
and cast it abroad, with no thought of holding back 
any On you go, straight forrard, and the bigger your 
hand the better pleased you are, and you cast it away 
on this side and on that, till one not learned in countiy 
ways would say, here is a mad person For it would 
seem as if you were feeding all the birds of the 
country, since there was always a following of rooks 
in the furrows, and starlings, and many small birds, 
which would be very unprofitable chickens 
It is a pretty thing to see the golden seed tossed in 
the air with sunshine on it and the light spring wind 
scattering it here and there, or if it is winter wheat, 
then it will be, very like, a still brown day with the 
mellowness of old beer in the colours and the scent of 
the air. I was always ready for the sowing, though 
Gideon did not care about it, and indeed would often 
seem to begrutch casting the grain from him, and 
would sow too thm and so waste land and labour I 
thought of all this, and of the fair evenings when we 
had walked forth, Mother and me, to look at the young 
barley pushing up, bright and sparse, then thickening, 
till the brown earth was all greened over, and springing 
taller and brighter, stiff and pointed, and then soften- 
ing and lengthening yet more, with the wind running 
in it like a boat furrowing the water, and finding a 
voice at last, and a song, and sending up its green, 
plaited ears to swell and ripen, till at the end they 
stood perfect as if the Lord had but that moment 
lifted His hand from them, all made of purest, 
clearest gold Gold leaves, gold stalks, gold knops 
for heads, and these knops bearded thick with old as 



A SEVENTH CHILD 


273 


well Yet it was an innicent gold, and not that gold 
which is called the bane Oh, how I could mind it, 
on those still Sunday mornings when I went to the 
well, and would set down the buckets for a little while 
and go out into the corn fields that lay beneath the 
vasty pale blue peace of the sky like creatures satisfied 
and at rest! There would be small birds about, mak- 
ing low contented cries and soft songs There would 
be a ruffling breeze, and rooks far up the sky, and a 
second bloom of pale gold flowers on the honeysuckle 
wrathes against the blue. There would be warmship 
that lapped you round, and the queenly gift of the 
scent of corn What other scent is like it ? There is 
so much in it, beyond other sweets There is summer 
in it, and frost There is water in it, and the heart 
of the flint which the corn has taken up into its hollow 
stalks There is bread in it, and life for man and 
beast 

All these thoughts, moithered and bewildered, came 
to me as I clung to the gate with the parching wind 
upon my face, too stunned to move There are mis- 
fortunes that make you spring up and rush to save 
yourself, but, there are others that are too bad for 
this, for they leave nought to do Then a stillness 
falls on the soul, like the stillness of a rabbit when 
the stoat looks hotly upon it and it knows that there 
is no more to be done 

The fire was m the two biggest stacks of wheat 
now It had gone upon them and they were not 
Soon they would be as the barley was They were 
good stacks, those, of a solid squarish oblong, and 
as high as might be with safety, for we had such a 



PRECIOUS BANE 


274 

harvest that we could only make room by having the 
stacks high It was good wheat too, long m the straw, 
and no touch of mildew. It had taken the most 
time of all both to sow and to reap, and in the lugging 
it had the biggest waggons all day And now it was 
gone! It was a great mound of fire with the black 
shapes of two stacks m it, and soon the fire would 
be passed on and there would be no more sound, but 
just two grey-white housen for demons, with baleful 
red gleams in the crumbling passages within There 
were more stacks of wheat by the hedge, but the next 
to the blazing stacks was the oats The lovely oats, 
so pale and fine, like ferns for a lady's table f 

They were so sweet, the oats, so very fine and fair, 
like midsummer grasses come golden I did ever love 
the oats best of all And suddenly I was all mother 
to the oats The fire met have the wheat and the bar- 
ley, but it should not take my oats I clomb over the 
gate and ran where the little figures moved I caught 
Gideon by the sleeve. 

“You mun save the oats!” I screamed. “Oh, save 
the oats, as is so fair and fine f ” 

But he said nought. He was working like a mad- 
man, and I saw that it was the oats he was trying to 
save, the oats and the stacks by the hedge He and 
Sammy were digging trenches between the blazing 
stacks and these, to fill with water. 

“Where's Tivvy?” I said, for mow 1 was come to 
myself I wanted all the help there was. 

“Gone for Feyther,” said Sammy, sweating and 
groaning over his spade, for the fire was gaining on 
them 



A SE VE NTH C ILD 


275 


“Shall I take Bendigo and go for help?” I said. 
“Or shall I get the buckets and begin fetching water?” 

“Ah, that f ” says Sammy “Do that, for help ud be 
too late, a power ” 

Not a word did Gideon say He was stricken with 
a dumb madness, but he worked like ten men What 
with the horror of mind and the stress of labour and 
the great heat of the fire, the sweat ran down his 
face in a river and his clones were as if he had bee 
in the water And being so wet, and so near the fire, 
he went in a cloud of steam, which had a very strange 
look, as if he had been put under some curse or was 
already in hell. 

I loosed Bendigo and the oxen and cows, such as 
were lying m, and they went pounding away into the 
woods, half crazy with fear. I woke Mother and told 
her she must dress and come to the mere and dip while 
we made a chain for the buckets, to send them from 
hand to hand I got together all the pails and buckets, 
and thought it seemed a pitiful thing that with all that 
great mere full of water we could only slake our fire 
with as much as we could get into our little buckets. 
And I've thought since that when folk grumble about 
this and that and be not happy, it is not the fault of 
creation, that is like a vast mere full of good, but it is 
the fault of their bucket's smallness 

Mother came with me like a child, very mazed and 
quiet. 

“Must I dip now, Prue?” she said 

“You can begin now, and have all the buckets 
ready,” I answered. “But the time when you must 



276 


PRECIOUS BANE 


dip your best will be m a tuthree minutes when we 
come/’ 

“Now, Sara,” says Sammy, “you mun leave dig- 
ging and come for water.” 

For though it may seem a thing not to be believed, 
all that awful night, though it was Gideon that did the 
most of the work, it was Sammy or me that gave the 
orders. Gideon would go at what he was set at in 
a frenzy, and go on after it stopped being any use, 
working like an ox at the threshing floor He threw 
down the spade when Sammy spoke, and came with 
us to the mere Mother was toiling over the dipping 
She looked smaller and smaller as the trouble 
thickened about her, like a person that had eaten some 
fairy stuff to make her not able to be seen She 
seemed no more than one of those little brown birds 
that will light down by the water for a while in their 
journeying and then be gone, nobody knows where 

“Now here comes Feyther, thanks be to the Lord,” 
said Sammy He was a good lad that night, was 
Sammy, and while the fire lasted he never said but 
one text, and that a very tempestuous one, “Burning 
and fuel of fire,” though he must have thought of no 
end of them. 

Sure enough there was Sexton bursting through the 
wood, and Tivvy not far behind, and an angry voice 
crying on the wind a long way back, that was Missis 
Sexton, who misliked being by Ifer lonesome. 

“Now,” says Sammy, “Feyther can go in the rick- 
yard and chuck on the water to dout the fire, Tivvy 
can gather the empty buckets as fast as he throws ’em 
down* and run back to Missis Sarn with ’em, and you 



A SEVENTH CHILD 


277 


and me and Prue’ll run with full ones. I did think 
we might make a chain and pass from hand to hand, 
but we be too few, Sara ” 

Gideon spoke for the first time 
“I never,” he said with a wild, pale face, “never 
had much strength about me, only me and these two.” 

And with that he put his arm across his face as 
he was used to do when he was a lad and things went 
badly wrong, and cried 

Ah, I tell you it was a thing few would have cared 
to see, a great, strong masterful man like that, crying 
like a little lad 

“Now, now, Sarn!” says Sexton, shocked as we all 
were, “Now, yo munna take on. The Lord gave and 
the Lord hath taken away.” 

At that Gideon came to himself 
“The Lord?” he says “No It wunna the Lord? 
It was Beguildy When we’ve don ted the stacks I 
shall fetch un and roast un.” 

No words of mine can tell you the awful way 
Gideon said that I wanted to ask how he knew, if he 
did know, but there was no time for words We wertf 
running to and again with two full buckets each, 
which, after an hour or so, is enough to try a strong 
man, leave alone a woman Water carrying is ai? 
easy job if there’s no hurry and you can use a yoke. 
But to run stumbling through a roasting heat, which 
we did for most of the journey, and to know that if 
you tarried the oats would go, and maybe if yotf 
didna tarry, was enough to take the spirit out of any- 
body The oats did go The fire leapt the ditch and 
all, and there was a new, tremendous blaze. I lost 



278 


PRECIOUS BAN 


heart after that, and though I ran, it was with no 
hope. 

“Oh, I be so tired/’ said poor Mother. But 1 
couldna let her rest. 

“If we canna save it,” I said, “you’ll never get free 
of tending swine, Mother ” 

So she bent her poor old back again, standing half 
in the water, in spite of the rheumatics. The cry 
went up to save the barn, for if the barn was lost, the 
house was lost At that, Mother left dipping for 
water, so I was forced to get Tivvy to do it, and we 
had to bring back our own empty pails I looked up 
once, and there was Mother fetching things out of 
the house I looked at them after, and there was her 
sewing and the copper fruit pan, and a sampler she 
did when he was little, and Father’s picture cut out 
in black paper, done by parson’s brother-law, who 
was part foreign People thought he must be simple 
to play with scissors and paper like a child, though 
they owned that he did it very well, and said that 
being part foreign he knew no better Though Mother 
had been so mortal feared of Father in life, she 
treasured this picture in the queerest way So there 
it was with the other things and six pots of damson 
cheese, and Pussy in a basket. 

It was only at dawn, when the wind dropped and a 
fine, quiet ram began to fall, that we got the fire 
under. At least, it had burnt* itself out, and we 
managed to save barn and house The red light was 
gone from the sky and the burning from the mere. 
For all night it had seemed that the water in the mere 
was turned to fiery spirit, and was burning too. 



A SEVENTH C I L 


279 


Everything was there, confused and topsy-turvy, th 
red and yellow flames, the smoke, bellying in the 
wind, the white-hot stacks, hollow and canting, the 
farm and the barn and our little black figures lik 
mommets in the tumult 

Not long after it was over came Missis Sexton* 
who had suffered frittening of Bendigo, that came 
snorting and trampling through the wood so that she 
thought it had been the Black Huntsman. There were 
many hollow trees about the Sarn woods, they being 
*)ld forest land, so she crept into one, and stayed till 
the light began to come And then, once in, she could 
not get out, for she was more than ornary stout and 
also had so many clo'es, and though m the stress of 
fear she squoze herself in, it was not easy to get out 
again in cold blood But when she did come, she soo 
got us all some breakfast, and indeed we were in need 
of it, not only for what was past, but to face the day. 

“Why, look's Tivvy and Prue white as ghosses !'* 
she said “And you, Missis Sarn, should be abed* 
and to bed you shall go when you've had bite and sup. 
And as for you, Sarn! Why, man, man, you fritte 
me worse than Bendigo, indeed to goodness ! Now 
then, where's ours ? Draw up now, draw up, take bit 
and sup, people !" 

She said it just as she said, “Take your places for 
the game of Costly Colours." 

“But what I'd lief know," says Mother, “is how 
Sexton and Sammy knew our ricks were afire?" 

“I knew," said Sammy, “because Tivvy and m 
were coming back latish from the mill, and we saw 
Beguildy coming along very quiet and sneaking this 



28 o 


PRECIOUS AN 


way So I says to Tivvy as we'd follow, for I’ve 
been keeping an eye on Beguildy a goodish while, 
he being a wicked old man and the power of the Lord 
far from him By their fruits you shall know them. 
And it seemed a funny time for him to be coming to 
Sarn, he being one for early bed always So we fol- 
lowed on slow, keeping a long way back And just 
as we came to the end of the wood there was a tre- 
mendous blaze from the far corner of the rickyard, 
and in a minute Beguildy came running up wood path, 
so we only had just time to hide As soon as he was 
past, we did run to the rickyard, and it was the little 
stack in the corner, and just by it was this ” 

Sammy held up the lid of Beguildy’s tinder box, 
which everybody knew well, for he’d put his name on 
the inside of the lid in red paint, being proud of his 
writing 

“What a fool, to drop un *” says Missis Sexton 
“Nay, Mother/’ says Sexton, “Beguildy’s no fool 
Twas the hand of the Lord took the tinder box lid 
off’n un and chucked it there for Sam to see Ah, 
so it was ” 

“In the hand of the Lord there is a cup, Psalms 
seventy-five, eight,” said Sammy 

“Only it wunna a cup,” giggled Tivvy, who was 
always sillier when she was excited, “ Twas the one- 
half of an old iron tinder box ” 

“Tis the curse*” moaned Mother. “He did curse 
y son Sarn by fire and by water, and this be the first 
Dear Lord knows what the second’ll be ’Tis the sin 
you did eat, Sarn There’s bin harm on the place ever 
since you did it Ah, ever since my poor maister died 



A SEVENTH C ILD 


28 l 


in his boots the place has been ill to live in, very ill it's 
been, what with the pigs and the rheumatics and the 
everlasting ploughing, and now all gone, as if it hadna 
been." 

“Ah, fire's a greedy feeder," said Missis Sexton. 
“I will consoom them m a moment, Numbers 
sixteen This great fire will consoom us, Deu- 
teronomy five. Fire consoomed the palaces of 
Benhadad, Jeremiah forty-nine," said Sammy 

“Three texes at a birth! Good lad, good lad!" 
cried Sexton. 

“Only it's Beguildy did ought to be consoomed," 
remarked Missis Sexton 

“And the awful thing about such wickedness," 
says Tivvy, “is that it's in the blood It goes on from 
father to child You'd never know when it ud break 
out. I wonder at you, Mister Sarn, I do, to be think- 
ing of taking the child of a viper m wedlock. I never 
did like the Beguildy s, Jancis m especial " 

“Indeed to goodness, the girl's right!" cried 0 
her Mother, and Sexton added- 

“What's bred in the bone’ll come out in the flesh.*® 
Gideon looked around, with a grey lined face, like 
an old man's He was never the same again after 
that night You canna knock an ox on the head with 
the mallet and then expect it to be just as it was He 
made to speak, but the words were slow in coming 
Just then there was trampling and traversing with- 
out, and Bendigo trotted past the window 
“Ha !" says Gideon, and makes for the door 
I knew what he was going for, and I rushed after 
birr? Bv good fortune the cows were coming back 



28 2 


PRECIOUS BANE 


. from the wood, making soft mooing plaints that it 
was long past milking time. So instead of pleading 
for Begmldy I said — “Look’s cows coming, they’ll be 
stanked if they inna milked ” 

“Ah, you mun mind not to let ’em get like that’n,*’ 
Missis Sexton cautioned from the room. “A brother- 
law’s cousin of mine had the best herd ever you saw 
Cheshire, he come from Grand cows they were, and 
never ailed, and plenty of everything there was in 
that house, good milk and butter and cheese, and 
buckets and buckets of skim for the pigs, and fine fat 
pigs they were, and a fine fat man my brother-law’s 
cousin was, and a fine fat woman he’d got for wife, 
and twelve fine fat children ” 

I may say that Missis Sexton, being so fat herself, 
always judged folk by it, and if they were thin they 
might as well never have been born, in her sight 
“Ah,” she went on, “they were all as fat as butter, 
filled the pew at church to bursting, until the day he 
let the cows get stanked. Ah* That was a bad day 
for ’em There was no prosperation after The cows 
dwined and the pigs dwined, and in a bit the family 
dwined too, and in a little while, of all that fine fat 
family there was nought left but fourteen miserable 
rails ” 

Tivvy was in a fit of giggling, for her Mother’s 
stories ’most always made her laugh, though many’s 
the beating she had for it ' 

“Milk first, lad,” I says to Gideon, “and go to the 
Stone House after.” 

God forgive me to deceive him so, but I wanted to 
save him from the sin of murder. No sooner was he 



A SEVENTH CHILD 


283 


in the shippen, milking, than I took Bendigo to the 
door and cried out to Sexton to mount and ride, and 
take Sammy too, for Bendigo could carry both as far 
as Plash, and to take Beguildy and march him off to 
the parish constable at Lullingford all in a courant, 
and save him from Gideon. For if he was locked up 
Gideon couldna get at him, and he’d only suffer what 
was right according to the law. 

“I see,” says Sammy. “Let me fall into the hand 
of the Lord, and not into the hand of man. Two 
Samuel twenty-four. Ah, we’d best go, Feyther.” 

“Will Jancis and Missis Beguildy go to prison 
too ?” enquired Tivvy 

“Surely to goodness no ! They’ve done nought In 
fact Jancis be a very tidy wench, and if she’d had the 
right spirit in her, and meekened her soul and gone 
softly in good sadness, I dunno but I’d have taken 
her m wedlock myself,” said Sammy 

They only got off just in time, for Gideon came 
running from the shippen, crying upon them to stop. 

“They’ll take Beguildy to prison,” I said “You 
munna have murder on your soul, lad, things be bad 
enough without that.” 

“It would have eased me,” he answered with a 
strange look. “It’s all dammed up within Choking, 
choking me. ’Twould have eased me to kill un. I’ll 
never mend of it now ” 

“But you couldn# kill the father of your wife-to- 
be,” I said. 

“Wife? What wife?” 

“Why, Jancis! You’ll be wed to Jancis come a 
week now.” 



284 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“What?” he says, with a wild, fierce look, “Do ye 
think I’ll wed with the devil’s daughter? I tell ye, it 
it was to save my life and all, I’d never wed with 
her. Nay, I’ll never see the wench again, not of 
choice, not unless she do force herself into my com- 
pany ” 

“Gideon, Gideon! Dunna say it f Oh, Gideon, 
there be things in life as is better than money and 
that’n Leave be, lad! It inna meant for us to be 
rich Let you settle down and be content, and marry 
the poor child as loves you so well, and if so be money 
comes, all the better. And if so be it dunna, none the 
worse But deny the poor girl marriage after what’s 
took place, you canna. Your heart canna be as hard 
as that ” 

“It is The granite mountain, quartzite, brytes, 
inna as hard. If you leave that girl come nigh me, I’ll 
tromple out her life like I would a clothes-moth’s 
And so I warn ye Rotten That’s what they be. 
Like father like child A fause smiling face, but any 
minute, any minute she met burn the place to the 
ground I shouldna wonder but she fetched the flint 
and tinder for un last night. Camperdine may take 
her and welcome I make him a present of her.” 

“But, Gideon, you’ve bin as good as wed to her this 
last week. And suppose there was to be a baby, what 
then?” 

“A baby? What? My child r and hers? I tell ye, 
if any such thing came to pass, I’d strangle it Hark 
ye, their blood’s black. Foul, foxy, vermin. That’s 
what they be They’re not fit to live Thanks be to 
God, folks can swing for arson I'll see he swings for 



A SEVENTH CHILD 285 

it And you tell the girl to keep away from me. It'll 
be the better for her." 

I durst say no more What could I say, when the 
human kindness m my poor brother had been scorched 
up m the fire and was not? Only a fool will dip and 
dip m a dry well He looked a deal taller as he stood 
there, with his back to the dark driving woods, where 
the rain was lashing now, that would have saved all 
last night, where the autumn storm was moaning, and 
the dry leaves churning and boiling in the air as the 
weeds will in the mere at the troubling of the waters. 
His clo'es yet clung to him, all scorched and darkened 
with the fire His face was grimed, so that the lines 
that had not showed were very clear to see, and there 
were more lines, I was sure, since last night His 
eyes, that were so cold, like water, blazed with hatred 
when he thought upon Beguildy or any of hisn, but 
at other times his face was blank and dim, like the 
face of one without hope, spent and foredone, a lost 
face I said should w r e dig taters, for I thought 
maybe it would be a bit of comfort, to think he'd got 
summat He came without a word, and worked hard 
and well, but every now and again he'd stop, and look 
about him strangely at the chill, silent mere, the over- 
cast heavens and the stormy woods It seemed to me 
that the spirit of the man was like a bird with a broken 
wing. And at noon, when I went to get our meal, he 
missed to come wh«n I banged the tray, and I found 
him in the rickyard, where the heaps of ash yet 
smouldered, lying upon his face, as still and hard of 
hearing as a dead man, and indeed I do think his heart 
was dead from that time. 



chapter three: The Deathly Bane 


T IS hard, and very hard, to write of the wintry time 
we went through after that night of grief and 
bitter woe For when the quill has traced out good 
words of a kind meaning, it irks it to make them sad 
and evil. But sad and evil that time was, and there 
is no use in gainsaying it. For many days after the 
fire, the work on the farm stood still, as it often will 
after a death. Gideon's one thought was to get at 
Beguildy, or if not that, to make him suffer the utmost 
of the law. Missis Beguildy was forced to give up 
the Stone House, for the landlord didna want a man 
there who burnt ricks, nor his folk, so he made the 
excuse of the rent being late to turn them out. Every- 
thing was sold, and Missis Beguildy and Jancis went 
off to Silverton, where Beguildy lay in prison waiting 
for the assizes, with only what they stood in. At 
least, poor Jancis didna stand, for when she heard the 
dreadful news of what Gideon had said, which I told 
her Mother to break to her as best she could, she fell 
down on the floor and stirred neither hand nor foot, 
or spoke a single word. They carried her to the 
waggon from Plash Farm, which r was to take her and 
her mother away, and they say she lay there like a 
broken flower. Maybe it was as well, for if her 
strength hadna gone from her she'd have tried to see 
Gideon, and I do think he'd have struck her down in 
his bitter smouldering rage. It seemed to ease him 

286 



THE DEATHLY BANE 


287 


to hear of their misfortune, and when the day came 
for them to go, he went off to a place in the woods 
where he could see the waggon pass by, and stood 
there looking down upon it, with the sullen farm 
labourer driving, misliking having anything to do with 
folk m such evil case in men's sight, and poor Missis 
Beguildy sitting m the waggon all aged and wild, and 
Jancis lying on some straw at the bottom, like a white 
waxen image I know, because Miller's Tim was m 
the wood at the time, and he came running to me, 
frit out of his life, pretty near, to tell me all about it 
“Oh, Prue Sara, I was in the 'ood after a tuthree 
nuts," he says, “and I saw Mister Sarn a-walkmg by 
lonesome, very glooming and drodsome, and I was 
feared, so I did hide in a tree And Mister Sarn went 
under the boughs of the big beech, where the road 
through the wood comes by And in a while there 
was a rumbling, and I saw the waggon from Plash, 
and Missis Beguildy crying and taking on awful, but 
I couldna see Jancis So I clomb the tree to see if 
she was in the bottom of the waggon, and there she 
was. She did look like a dead maid. Oh, she did 
look like the picture in the church of the little maid as 
was dead m the house when they fetched the Lord in, 
and He says ‘Rise you up f ' He says. Only He hadna 
said it to Jancis. And I was feared, and I came down 
quiet from the tree, and I saw Mister Sarn staring 
down upon the waggon, for you do know there's a bit 
ot a bank just there And his face did frit me so 
tnat I made to run off, only then he stirred, so I kept 
quiet for fear he might come my way. He gloomed 
upon the waggon a long while, till the rumbling went 



288 


PRECIOUS BANE 


ever so quiet, and wunna no more than the noise of 
a startle-de-buz when it be gone past, and then there 
was no sound at all, save the noise of a throstle bang- 
ing a conker on a stone And Mister Sarn did lift 
up both his fisses and did shake 'em after the waggon, 
and oh, Prue ! his face was like the face of the Lord 
Jehovah m Feyther's book, when His anger was not 
turned away. Then he went away, slow, looking 
upon the ground, and the throstle went on banging 
the conker on the stone, and I runned to you ” 

And that was how the properest man m our coun- 
tryside did see the girl of his choice go, a girl like a 
water-lily bud, as loved him right well. 

I said to myself, “It be the bane Oh, it be the 
dreadful bane ” 

But after that Gideon seemed more at ease in him- 
self. And I think it was that he had mistrusted his 
own heart, being afraid that if Jancis came to him 
he'd give in. And his purpose was not to give m, but 
to begin all over again, and go straight forrard to his 
fixed end and aim 

The morning after they'd gone, he fetched out the 
ploughs, and came to the kitchen door and called to 
me as I was making gruel for Mother, who was abed 
again, and had been ever since the fire, taking nought 
but gruel or a posset, and he said — 

“Come and start of the big field, oot, Prue?” 

I thought it was best not to give him a nay-word 
at all, so I said, Ah, I'd come I took the gruel to 
Mother and said should I get Tivvy to come and sit 
with her a bit now and again, seeing we were startin 
on the ploughing And she says— 



THE DEATHLY BANE 


289 


“Oh, that bitter old ploughing! And maybe all the 
corn’ll be burnt like the last. No wedding, nor house 
nor china nor nothing, only the pigs to tend again 
come the spring! But maybe I wunna see the spring. 
I’m very middling, Prue. You mun get the doctor’s 
mon to me, I doubt.” 

And indeed her poor hands were very thin and 
shrunken, and her small face browner and thinner, 
and she seemed more like a lost bird or a trapped crea- 
ture than ever, and more in fear of Gideon. 

“Dunna let him come in till I be better,” she’d say. 
“Dunna let my son Sarn come and make me feel as 
I’m a burden He dunna love me. He’d lief I was 
dead and sodded *’ 

And she’d lift up her hands, beseeching. 

So I got Tivvy to come and mind her, and all that 
winter of dark weather, dark within as well as with- 
out, we ploughed, turning over the stubble of that 
good harvest we’d lost We were poorer than ever, 
and things didna prosper so well as they had, there 
being no heart in us There were Tivvy’s meals to 
find as well, for though she came for love, being sweet 
on Gideon, yet we had her victuals to find, and she 
was a very hearty feeder. The doctor’s man cost a 
lot, also, and the worse the weather was, the more he 
charged About the New Year there was a bitter cold 
spell, and ice on the roads, so his horse came down 
and broke its leg, and we had to pay summat towards 
that Things seemed to go from bad to worse, for 
Gideon kept me so hard at it, driving plough, that I 
was forced to leave the dairy work and the fowls and 
pigs to Tivvy, and she was ever a bit flighty, and care- 



290 


PRECIOUS BANE 


less, so folks began to complain about the butter, and 
the fowls laid badly, and the pigs began to look thin 
and unkind, and Tivvy thought of nothing but to 
make herself look pretty and temptuous for Gideon 
As January went on the weather got worse, and we 
had a heavy fall of snow, and Mother was so bad one 
night that I was forced to send for the doctor’s man 
again. At least, send I didna, for nobody would go, 
the snow being deep. There was nothing for market, 
the cows being dry all but one, and eggs scarce So 
Gideon didna go to Lullingford, and I made up my 
mind to go on Sunday, when even Gideon didna 
plough, and once at Lullingford I could send word to 
the doctor by the Silverton coach. This I did, and a 
weary day I had of it, and a sad day also, passing the 
empty house of Kester Woodseaves, and thinking 
maybe some ill might come to him in the great city, 
or he might meet a lover there, and so come no more 
to Lullingford But I was glad of this weary day 
after, for there be times when the only comfort a body 
has is the remembrance of hardship borne for some- 
body dear 

When the doctor’s man came after a good few days, 
he was forced to bide with us some time, on account 
of the badness of the roads This irked Gideon, for 
the expense of the food and also his nag’s keep He 
was the more put out because the doctor’s man gave a 
good account of Mother, for he^seemed to think she 
should have been at death’s door afore I called the 
man to come from so far away I mind we were sit- 
ting round the hearth, late on a wild night, with hail- 
storms taboring on the window, and a good clear fire 



THE DEATHLY BANE 2gl 

that we were mighty glad of. The doctor's man was 
a pleasant-spoken person, round and short and ruddy, 
with a bright red colour on his cheeks that looked as 
if it had a good glaze over it He was always rub- 
bing his hands, as if the last patient had pleased him 
very well, but you could never tell from this how the 
person had prospered, for he’d rub his hands as much 
over a corpse as over a quick person, and indeed, I 
sometimes thought, more He was rubbing them 
while we talked about Mother, though not so much as 
he did when he told us of poor Missis Beguildy, who 
had ailed more and more ever since she got to Silver- 
ton, and was now said to be going into a decline. It 
wasna that he was an unkind man, or wished folk 
harm, only naturally it was more interesting to him 
if they were took for death than if they were only a 
little ailing. 

“Missis Sarn’ll pull through now. Nicely, she will, ,r 
he said. 

“Oh!" says Gideon. “Her'll pull through, wi 
her? ” 

“Ah And last a-many years, I shouldna wonder. 
A wiry old lady! Tough, for all she's thin and nesh- 
looking." 

“How many years?" says Gideon. 

“Oh! It's hard to say. Doctor might be able to, 
but of course I be only like his 'prentice. But it might 
be as much as ten, easy. Ah. I should say ten. With 
care " 

“Ten years 1” Gideon said it in a very strange way, 

“Ah, but you mun cosset her." 

“Ten years, and always like this?" 



PRECIOUS BANE 


292 

"'Oh, ah! Her’ll be bedridden, winters, and maybe 
all the year round later on.” 

“And she'll be no more use?” 

“Use ? Why, what use could she be?” 

“And you coming over a tuthree times every winter, 
1 suppose ?” 

“Oh, ah, if you send for me,” says doctor's man, 
taking a pull at his ale and helping himself to another 
piece of bread and cheese, which made Gideon scowl. 

“Whenever be you going to clear supper, Prue?” 
he says. “I've had my bellyful this long while ” 

“Oh, but you're such a poor eater, Sarn,” Tivvy 
cries out. “It's wonder you’re not clemmed You 
wan! a wife to cook for ye and sarve up temptuous 
dishes. Chitterlmg puffs, now They're as different 
from plain chitterlings as heaven from hell I made 
some Sunday was a week, and neither Feyther nor 
Sammy spoke a word all day after, they were that 
contented m their innards ” 

“Oh, dear me, I do wish I wunna a married man,” 
Bays the doctor's chap “Ah, in good sadness I wish 
it!” 

“If you wunna, it would be no manner use,” said 
Tivvy pertly “I like a big man ” 

Gideon took no notice, any more than he did of the 
chitterlmg puffs. 

“A very big man,” went on that forrard little piece, 
“and dark. Big shoulders, big 'ands, arms with great 
big lumps of muscle and sinew, big feet, strong 
legs 

“Why, missis, you be giving a list like the list in the 
Song o' Solomon,” says doctor's man. 



T E DEATHLY BANE 


293 


“And hard/’ went on Tivvy, taking no notice, but 
fixing her eyes on Gideon, “hard and never tired, lusty 
and lungeous and ill to thwart, but a good lover, ah, 
and fiery, and not to be gainsayed by the girl he's a 
mind for. That's the man for me! Ah That's the 
man Sexton's Tivvyriah would be a right good missus 
to, with no other thought but to save and scrape and 
scrat to do his will and make him rich " 

“Well, you should have been a lawyer. Missis, s 
you should," says the visitor, “and if you dunna get 
what you want, may I be bottled m spirits like a tad- 
pole!" 

But Gideon never lifted his eyes to Tivvy at all, 
only sat and glowered till she'd gone to bed Then 
he said again — “And she'll last for years, always ail- 
ing, but lasting on?" 

“Ah. Indeed to goodness! Creaking doors, you 
know But you mun see you keep her pulse strong. 
There's the danger If it wunna kept strong, she’d very 
likely go off quiet and sudden before you'd time to say 
sarsaparilla Keep the pulse strong and she'll be as 
merry as a robin " We talked a bit more, and the 
Gideon said he was going to look the stock afore turn- 
ing in. 

“The brindled longhorn’s very middling," he said. 
“Seems to be in a fever all the while Heart’s like to 
burst sometimes. I suppose a dose of foxglove ud put 
her right, maybe?" « 

“AH. Foxglove’ll lower the pul as quick s any- 
thing. But you mun be careful. Be she a youn 
cow?" 

“Going four." 



294 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“Dunna give her too much, then When things get 
old and worn out they canna stand much of it ” 
When the visitor was gone to bed, and Gideon back 
from the shippen, he sat down, hopeless-like, and 
said — 

“Her means dying ” 

“What, Brindle?” I says. 

“Ah. Seems like that old devil’s put a curse on me 
all right ” 

“It’s only the weather, and Tivvy being a bit care- 
less, and me so busy at it, ploughing ” 

“And there’s Mother,” he said, “as was used to help 
a bit, no use, and less than no use A heavy burden ! 
We’ll never pick up now she’s like that ” 

“Dunna let her know you think it,” I said 
But the very next day, when I took her supper, 
there was Gideon standing in the mid of the room, 
talking very loud, and Mother like a frittened mouse 
“Well,” he was saying, “you be very middling. 
Mother !” 

“Ah, I be ailing, Sarn,” she says, with her smile 
“It mun be a sorrow to you that you canna do a 
hand’s turn ” 

“Ah. It be, Sarn But come the warm weather. 
I’m in behopes to see to the broody hens and the rest 
of the fowl Ah! And the ducks and the cade 
lambs ” 

“But not the pigs?” 

“Well, if Tim could mind ’em a bit longer I’d be 
glad. It does make me so rheumaticky, down by the 
water there ” 

“It’s a big expense, giving that great lad his tea 
/ery dav,” 



THE DEATHLY BAKE 295 

“I know it be, and I’ll be as quick as I can getting 
better, Sarn " 

“I shouldna think life's much of a pleasure to you, 
ailing so " 

“It be weary time and again, but m between I'm 
pretty comfortable." 

tf< What with the rheumatics and the cough and the 
sinking feeling, I should think you'd as lief be in the 
Better Land " 

“When it pleases the Lord to take me to the Better 
Land, I mun go without complaint, but I'd liefer be 
in life, for life I do know, and the worst of it, but the 
Better Land I dunna know." 

“You know there's no coughs nor rheumatics there, 
nor sinking feeling " 

“Nor chimney corners nor cups of tea," she says, 
“and I doubt it'll be too grand for me, Sarn." 

But Gideon, standing m the mid of the room and 
talking very loud, said — 

“You'd as lief be dead as quick" 

He went away then, but every evening he went in 
again and talked in the same way, which seemed a 
pity to my mind, for though he might mean to cheer 
her up, and though folk never seem to think it matters 
what you say to the sick, yet it seemed to me melan- 
choly talk for a poor old ailing woman But at last, 
one evening at the end of March, in a spell of wet, 
muggy weather, wHfen the rheumatics were very bad, 
she said, when he came to what he always ended with 
■ — “I should think you'd as lief be dead as quick " 

“Well, maybe I would, Sarn " 

And that seemed to content him. He left off com- 
ing every evening* which eased Mother, for she was 



2g6 


PRECIOUS BANE 


more m dread of him than ever nowadays, so that 
even Tivvy noticed it. I thought when April came m, 
things seemed to be going better, Mother being more 
cheerful, though still very weak. I got on better with 
my work, being free of worry, and Mother seemed 
quite happy with Tivvy. We were working harder 
than ever, and my clones hung about me, but I didna 
mind that. I was sowing the big field with wheat, 
while Gideon went on ploughing It was grand out 
there in the fresh of the morning, with purple shadows 
on the wet earth, and the sun rolling up beyond the 
woods, and Sarn Mere like pale blue crackled glass with 
a light behind it. Times, the sky would be all pale blue 
too, with larks hanging in it. Times, the big white 
clouds, like new-washed and carded wool, stood upon 
the tops of the budding trees. The bright colours 
made me think of the coloured weaving, which I 
supposed Kester would have pretty near mastered by 
now Though no word had come, since Christmas, 
of his doings or his well-being, I felt in myself that 
all was right with him At Christmas the Silverton 
coachman had left a little packet for me at the Mug 
of Cider, and when I was raught back to the attic I 
found within a bit of cloth woven in two colours, and 
a letter 

London Town. 

Christmas . 

Dear Prue Sarn — 

This is to wish you well as it leaves me. I can do 
two colours now, as you see by pattern The women 
here are poor things, pale and small, mostly fair, and 



T E D ATHLY BANE 297 

ot a real melting dark eye among them. I was bid 
to a banquet at the house of an alderman that is 
weaver. There was a young wench sat by me that 
had spared her bodice-stuff but not her blushes. I 
called to mind a dark stone chamber, and young 
Camperdine’s face in the shadows, and a woman that 
did what she did for loving-kindness and in bitterness 
of spirit, but did look like an appie-blossom fairy all 
the same, and did light a fire in one chap as will be 
very hard to dout And so a happy Christmas and a 
good New Year from 

Kester Woodseaves 

I may say that letter was in rags by April, as if the 
mice had been at it 

I had sent him a letter for Christmas also, and this 
was it 

Sarn. 

Christmas 

Dear Weaver — 

Please find herein a lockratn shirt. If you wear it, 
they say you’ll take no harm from the smallpox or 
other ills. I wove it and made it of hemp, and said a 
good few old righteous charms over it, but no un- 
righteous ones. I often call to mind the day we 
watched the dragomflies, at the time of the troublin 
of the waters, when the lilies were in blow. So fare- 
well for now, and God send you happy 

Yours obediently, 

Prudence S^rn 



98 


PRECIOUS BANE 


The seventh of April being a very clear-coloured 
morning, I called the weaving to mind, and so, as I 
went up and down the field sowing the bright seed, I 
sang Barley Bridge . 

“ Shift your feet m nimble flight \ 

You'll be home by candlelight . 

Open the gates as wide as the sky , 

And let the king come riding by" 

Would Kester ever come riding to Sarn from Lon- 
don Town? I wondered. For the fair, he’d said he’d 
come, at the time of the troubling of the waters, when 
the lilies were in blow all along the marges of the 
mere, looking at their angels, and when blue king- 
fisher-flies and the bright, lustre-coloured damsels 
were coming out of their shrouds 

I was thinking thus, when I looked up, and there was 
Tivvy, coming running in a great courant, all dis- 
traught “Come quick, Prue !” she said. “Her’s took 
very bad. The tea didna agree He says, give it her 
strong, he says, for it’ll do more good the like of 
that’n. So I did. And she said it was a bitter brew 
But she drank it. And in a while she went ever so 
quiet, and I couldna hear her breathe. And then she 
gave a guggle and whispers — 

“ ‘Go for Prue ’ ” 

I was only just in time to kiss Mother, who was all 
shrunken down in her pillows. She whispered — 

“A bitter brew !” and smiled, and caught her breath, 
and was gone. 



THE DEATHLY BANE 


299 


After a while I says to Tivvy — 

“Where's that tea?" 

But she'd thrown it away 

“Gideon," I said, “was there bane in that tea you 
did tell Tivvy to give Mother?" 

“Now what do I know what Tivvy did give to 
Mother ?" says he 

“Oh, Sarn, you did know!" cries Tivvy “You 
said, "Give it her strong,' you did " 

“Hold your tongue, you little liar," shouts Gideon, 
“or I'll thank you to tell Prue what you and me were 
doing in the loft, Sunday's a week " 

With that, Tivvy went as red as fire, and hushed 

I could make nothing of them. I sent for the doc- 
tor, to see what Mother died of. And he said, were 
we m the habit of giving her digitalis , a strange word 
that I didna know, but he spelled it out for me, and I 
wrote it down. So I said no, I'd never heard tell of 
it So he says, “Foxglove’ Foxglove!" 

“Foxglove?" I says. “No. Whatever should I 
give her that for?" 

“What indeed?" he says, looking at me very sharp. 

“What do puzzle me, sir," I says, “is what Mother 
died of. She was beginning to pick up so nice." 

“That's what I want to know, too," he says 

“Maybe we'd ought to have a Crowner's 'Quest, 
sir?" I says 

“Oh, you'd be willing to have an inquest on the 
body?" 

“Why, yes, indeed, if it was right and proper." 

“Well, if you're willing to have it, there's no need 
to have it." 



300 P ECIOUS BANE 

He was a very peculiar man. I couldna make him 
out at all 

“I was doubtful.” he says, “But if you're willing 
. . It's nothing but old age, I expect They go like 
that in the spring sometimes And it's a great trouble 
and expense, an inquest ... all just for the flicker 
of a doubt . . and can't do the poor woman any 

manner of good . so, if you're willing, we won't 
bother with an inquest ” 

I could make neither head nor tail of that But 
remembering that Doctor was an educated man, I 
left off trying to understand him For there's as much 
of a mystery about an educated man, that's been 
schooled and colleged proper, as there is about the 
Trinity So, being busy over the funeral and all, I 
thought no more about him, but I grieved sorely for 
Mother, because as she lay in coffin she did look like 
a frozen bird, foredone with winter. 



chapter four: All on a May Morning 


TT was quieter than ever at Sarn without Mother's 
quiet ways I missed her a deal more than if I’d 
depended on her, for it's the folk that depend on us 
for this and for the other that we most do miss. So 
the mother is more let and hindered lacking the little 
creatures clinging to her skirt than she is when they 
be there, for she has no heart for her work. So in the 
lengthening April days I'd often sit and cry, calling tc 
mind her poor little hands uplifted, and her way of 
giving me a right good welcome when I came in tired 
of an evening There was only Gideon and me, and 
Tivvy now and again. The work went on the same 
as ever, though there was a sadness about it all. 
Gideon never went into the stackyard but he cursed 
Beguildy, who was still in prison, with no sentence 
fixed We'd heard nought of Jancis nor her mother 
for a good while, nor had there been another letter 
from Kester The market began again. I mean, we 
began to go again, having plenty to fill the stall One 
of us would go, and the other would mind the farm, 
and I heard that every time Gideon went, Miss Dora- 
bella would come and buy summat Indeed it was 
already being said that she was sweet on Gideon, and 
I could only hope it wouldna come to the Squire's ears. 
I didna wonder at her being partial to Gideon, for 
deed he was a fine, strong man, with a deal of char- 


ge i 



$02 


PRECIOUS BANE 


acter and power, and very good to look at, and there 
were few young gentlemen about Lullingford at that 
time, what with some of them going to bide in Lon- 
don, and some never coming back from the wars. 
Gideon never said anything to me, but I could see he 
was flattered at her liking, and I thought once when 
she came to our door for a drink of milk, that his 
hand shook a bit when he gave her the cup. But if 
he was thinking of her, Fm sure it was only the lust 
of the eye, and youth, and the wish to get on, and not 
love, such as he felt for Jancis. I didna believe he’d 
ever love anybody again, since that early love had been 
poisoned — for indeed the bane seemed to have got into 
it as it had into everything But there was no doubt 
he was very taken up with her, and when it wasna 
Miss Dorabella it was Tivvy. He didna care a farden 
for Tivvy, but he was ready to take all she’d give, as 
many another young man would, especially after such 
an upsetting of his life, and the losing of his dear 
acquaintance He seemed to want to be out along 
with Tivvy when he wasna working, as if he was 
restless, and he couldna bear to speak of Mother. 
This seemed curious to me, for he never appeared to 
care much about her in life I mind when May Day 
came, and we were starting for the market, for the 
things must be sold, mourning or not, I said I called 
to mind just where Mother stood to send us last time. 
And Gideon gave a bit of a start, «and looked, nervous 
like, at the place I pointed to, almost as if he thought 
she’d come again. And sometimes I noticed that he’d 
look across at her chair, anxious and brooding This 
troubled me, for it was so different from his usual 



ALL ON A 


AY 


0 N I N G 


303 


ways. In all else he was the same, and the farm was 
the same, and the mere, and the spring May came 
m warm and splendid, and the buds and blades, the 
opening petals and the blown petals, the wafts of sweet 
air and the storms of warm ram drove on o^er the 
country as in every other year. The blackbirds kept 
up their charm the day long, and the cuckoos were at 
it from four or five m the morning Out went the 
coots and their young across the mere, the dippers 
made their well-roofed house, the wag-tails played 
beside the water, and the heron stood watching his 
long shadow m the glassy lake, as if he wondered how 
soon it would be as long as the steeple. The lily leaves 
lay green and bright, like empty boats, for the time of 
lilies was not yet. The young leaves on the forest trees 
lengthened and broadened, the grass grew long and 
began to ripple, the corn sprang quick and bright 
The Lent lilies m the meadow wilted, and the bluebell? 
came, like smoke bellying up the slopes of the woods. 
All was made anew, and the brighter the colours were, 
the more I thought of Kester and his weaving, and 
the more unkind I felt it to be on my part, to be glad 
of the spring, with poor Mother m her new-made 
grave. There came a day in the very mid of all this 
fine May weather, when the thorn trees along by the 
mere were so thickset with blossom that they laid a 
solid wall of white in the water at their feet Though 
it was noon, the charm of bird-song was nearly as 
loud as it was at dawn, for m May they never seem to 
weary We were in the kitchen, having our dinner 
afore going out to finish earthing up the taters Tivvy 
was helping, as she often did now, though she got but 



304 


PRECIOUS BANE 


little thanks from Gideon, who would brood all the 
while, and frown, and start up sometimes as if he 
heard a voice 

The kitchen was pleasant after the heat outside, for 
it was an early year The sun lay m quiet patches 
along the quarries, and the lilac outside, just past its 
prime, and the sweeter for it, sent a strong freshness 
through the open window. 

Something went past the window, and there was a 
little soft tap on the door It reminded me of the time 
when Jancis ran away and came to our door in the 
snow. I went to open, and there she stood, Jancis, 
white as a ghost, leaning against the doorpost, with a 
shawl wrapped about her, and in the shawl, as I 
could just see, a baby no bigger than a doll. 

“Why, Jancis!” I says “However in the name of 
goodness did you come?” 

But she only looked past me, as wild and as white 
as any mermaid m the old tales, peering after her 
mortal lover. 

She gave me neither word nor look She gave 
Tivvy no glance even. We wunna there for Jancis 
in that hour She just slipped in, like a wreath of mist 
from off the winter mountain or a drift of blossom 
from off the summer trees, or a white woman from 
under the mere She’d got on the b own she was used 
to wear for randies, torn and crumpled but still white, 
and though it didna set her off as well as the blue one, 
it did, with the white shawl, make her look like a float- 
ing spirit out of the air, as she went across the kitchen 
There she was, all of a heap at Gideon’s feet, and she 
had set the baby on the floor in front of him, as he 



ALL ON A AY ORNING 305 

sate in the big arm-chair at the table And the table 
being set out with food, and he at its head, and Jancis 
there upon the floor, it did make me think of that story 
in the Bible when Jesus was at a feast, and some poor 
person came and asked summat, and was chid, and did 
up and say that not even the dogs need lack their 
crumbs It was as if all the good of life was out- 
spread there on our oaken table, till it creaked under 
the weight There were the fruits of love, there was 
the homely bread of daily kindness, and the cup to 
quench all thirst, and salt to make life tasty, and all 
the lesser pleasures that do make life a good, sweet 
thing in the living And Gideon had the helping of 
them Sam of Sarn Mere was the maister of that 
feast, and he might say, if he would, “Here, let me 
heap thy plate, and fill up thy mug!” Or he might 
begrutch it all 

Jancis was kneeling in the patch of bright sunshine, 
and she seemed as the snowflake when the day turns 
to a thaw In the ticking of one moment she might 
be melted clean away. I called to mind that day in 
the dairy, when she came in behopes that Gideon might 
ask her to wed there and then I called to mind the 
night I wished her well when Beguildy was gone to 
look for the seventh child, and the time I saw her 
coming toerts me between her white oxen, like a lady 
of old time that has been a long while dead I re- 
membered how sh^’d sung Green Gravel that Christ- 
mas when she ran away, and how the light from the 
window was green upon her face, and how she was 
used to say — 

“O I wanted to play Green Gravel 1 ” 



PRECIOUS BANE 


3° 6 

All the things she'd ever said or done seemed to be 
lapped around her as she knelt there with her golden 
hair all loose about her shoulders That she was so 
pale, all white and gold, and that Gideon was so dark, 
and darkly clad, made it seem yet more as if she came 
from some other world, and the baby also, for it was 
white too, and its tiny head, where the wrapper fell 
aside, was covered with a light yellow down There 
was no look of Gideon in it at all It wunna like a 
real baby, but like a changeling that came into being 
in the mid of a summer night on the petal of a lily 
flower Oh, it was a strange baby as ever I saw! I 
*eaned against the doorpost with the tears rolling 
down my face, and so that I shouldna sob out loud I 
promised myself to give Jancis the best meal ever she 
had, so soon as this should be over, and she should 
have a new-laid egg from the slatey game hen, whose 
°ggs were worth a mint of money for setting, she 
being a prize bird. Though why it should please me 
so to think of her eating it, when a common egg would 
have been quite as nice, and bigger, I dunna know. 
And I promised myself that the baby should have the 
best wash ever, for indeed it looked as if it had rolled 
in the ashes. And oh, dear me ! how I'd stuff it with 
milk, and how I’d dress up the old rush cot, and make 
a little counterpane, and then put the well-stuffed baby 
to lie in the sun and sleep f And in time it would lose 
that wisht, awful look, so ancient, as if it knew all 
there was to know, and didna like it. I wanted to see 
it with a great big tossy-ball of golden cowslips And 
all the while Tivvy sat by Gideon with her mouth 



AY 


ORNING 


ALL ON A 


307 


fallen open with surprise, and looking almost as fat- 
tened as if she’d seen a ghost. 

Gideon was like a stone man. There was no feeling 
In his face at all, neither pity nor anger. All that was 
overpast, it seemed. It was like an old tale that he’d 
forgotten, and Jancis was chief lady in that tale, but 
why she was, and who she was, and what she did was 
all out of mind, because the tale was lost to his remem- 
brance. Once, at Christmas, maybe, if she’d come, 
he’d have knocked her down, very likely, in his anger. 
But then he might have kissed her after. Now he 
neither struck nor kissed. 

All he’d felt for her had died in the fire that night of 
September, and the sin of the father was visited upon 
the poor girl For when Gideon’s eye fell on her, he 
saw his burning ricks, and in her blue glance there 
were the red reflections of fire, as you will see on some 
clear morning the last wild smoulderings of the thun- 
derstorm That was all she meant to him now. And 
though his hatred of Beguildy was as savage as ever, 
he had no feeling at all for her, neither hatred nor 
desire, nor even lust, much less any love. Miss Dora-* 
bella had seized upon his mind, and Tivvy had satisfied 
his body. There was no place for Jancis. There he 
sat, in our old kitchen, so quiet, yet so full of whis- 
pers, so full of the remembrance of all the Sarns that 
had been here, from Tim, with the lightning in his 
blood, to Father, passing out from life in a dark snor- 
ing after a fit of anger. I thought of Mother spinning 
here day after day, whirring like a little lych-fowl, 
I thought of all the other Sarn women, and of myself, 



3°8 


P ECIOUS BANE 


striving and slaving for the bane And it seemed that 
the bane was like some plant, such as the catch-fly, that 
does wile living creatures into its banqueting hall, 
spreading a great feast, and see ! when they are in, she 
catches them d grips them, and binds them, and 
trammels their feet, so that they cannot go. There 
was a heavy sweetness from the day-lilies m the bor- 
der that made me think of death chambers. I wished 
Jancis would say summat and get it over, whether for 
good or ill, so that I might the sooner set about the 
babe. But she didna, and time went on and on. Out- 
side, there was Sam Mere standing up afore me like 
a mirror framed in some precious green gem work. 
There was no sound but the saddish charm of the 
birds near and far, and the wandering hum of a bee 
that came in to our kitchen, and, mislikmg it, blun- 
dered out again 

Then Jancis lifted up her head and looked at Gid- 
eon 

“Sam!” she said And again, “Sara!” 

As she said it, I got the feeling that there were 
many listeners, leaning down out of the air, crowded 
together as close as the petals of a white peony, waiting 
to hear what should come of this meeting 

She clasped her hands and set her blue eyes upon 
Gideon, seeming to leave the baby aside for a while, as 
if he should speak up for himself later. 

“Do you mind, Sarn,” she said* “how we used to 
play Conquer with the big pink and white snail-housen 
down by the water, and you nearly always won, and I 
lost? Do you mind how I wanted to play Green 
Gravel 



ALL ON A 


AY MORNING 


3°9 


Her faint voice stopped a while, and a strange thing 
happened, for as I watched her it seemed to me as if 
many voices, a long way off, took up the words of that 
old song and sang it right through, in parts, as is the 
manner of singers in our country-side For if any- 
body sings at all, he or she can sing parts, the people 
being all very fond of music and having it grained into 
their souls So I heard it, with the grace-notes of the 
trebles and the rolling of the bass voices, and the altos 
and the tenors taking up the words and playing with 
them, and all as it were, making much of the song, 
and speaking for Jancis through it. Very low and 
far it seemed, yet rich with many voices 

“Green gravel , green gravel , the grass is so green f 
The fairest young lady that ever was seen. 

Til zvash you m milk , and Til clothe you in silk , 

And write down your name with a gold pen and ink 99 

What it was I heard, I never knew Parson said 
it was my busy imagination playing about the past. 
I canna say. Only, in my imagination or in reality, 
I did hear it, in very truth, a part song, well sung and 
tuneful, with every note clear and each part inter- 
twining as it should, but all a very long way off. 

“Do you call to mind the even when you saw me 
tinder the rosy light, Sarn, when you were coming 
back from Lullingford ooth the sheep ? And the day 
we found the canbottlins’ nest in the spinney, and four- 
teen young uns in it, and you kissed me once for every 
canbottlin?” 

Still Gideon made no sound, nor stirred 



3io 


PRECIOUS BAN 


“And when I ran away, and Prue took me in, you 
did say to me, standing in the mid of this very kitchen, 
‘Give us a kiss, wench !' And in the dairy once you 
said I looked as if I was made of may and milk. And 
at Callard's, that evening, I held the baby while Mister 
Callard made 'em all say, ‘Bull-baiting's bad !' do you 
mind how Grandfeyther Callard said all of a sudden, 
‘I see two babbies m her arms, ours, and hers as is to 
come!' And the harvest dance, when they whistled 
so well, and we danced?" 

A quiver went across Gideon's face at the mentio 
of that harvest, and I wondered at Jancis speaking 
of it, till I saw that she'd forgotten the cause of Gid- 
eon's quarrel with her. All she knew now was that 
he didna love her, and the reason was neither here nor 
there. 

“And when Feyther went to look for the seventh 
child, and you came, and we were so sweet together? 
Ah! Even that morning after Feyther came back we 
were so, and you said, ‘Come five days, my little dear P 
And I said, ‘God send you happy f And since that, 
Sarn, I hanna set eyes on you till this hour." 

Still Gideon made no sign, so she laid her hand on 
his arm. 

“Do you mind it, Sarn?" she says. 

“Ah I" he said, indifferent, “I mind it, but it was 
long ago. Time out of mind " 

“But the babe wasna Here ‘be the babe, Sarn! 
Yours and mine " 

She held the child up as if she'd put it on his knees, 
but he waved it away. 

“A boy!" says Jancis “Not a girl, to cumber you 



ALL ON A 


AY 


O KING 


31 * 


with women A boy to mind pigs for ye ever so soon, 
and in a few years he'll be driving plough Ah. I 
reckon he'll be a good lad to you, and work well, and 
gather in twice as much as his grandad scattered 
abroad." 

The poor babe stirred, as if it felt the heavy burden. 

Gideon looked at it, as if when it touched his life's 
aim it could be seen, though invisible at other times. 
Then he gave a short, cruel laugh. 

“That?" he says. “You offer me that to help me? 
Thank ye ! Why, if it lives, which I doubt, it'll never 
be no good but to coddle about in the house and feed 
on soft food." 

And as if it knew that it hadna passed the test, the 
poor mite set up a wail At this Gideon pushed the 
table aside and got up. He went to the back kitchen 
door, that being the nearest way to the kitchen garden, 
At the door he stopped a minute. 

“Best go back where you came from," he said 
“You binna wanted here, neither the one nor the 
other." 

With that, he shut the door and went out 

Jancis stayed where she was, seeming mazed and 
dumbfoundered A pale feather borne along the air, 
a lily petal wandering on the water, couldna be as lost 
as she was then. I ran to her, and lifted her and the 
babe to the settle, for indeed she was so light, it was 
pity to feel her lightness 

“Now, lookye," I said, “never a word shall you 
speak till you've had bite and sup ! Put the kettle on, 
Tivvy, there's a good girl, the while I warm some milk 
for baby." 



3 12 


PRECIOUS BANF 


Jancis said nought, but in a little the tears began to 
steal down her cheeks. She took a sup of tea, and 
then I asked her how she got here. 

“1 walked,” she said, “and poor baby was so heavy 
You'd never think, to look at him, what a weight he 
was to lug ” I knew he scarce weighed more than a 
good fowl, and so I knew also how weary poor Jancis 
must have been, to feel so small a burden so heavy. 

“Whatever was your mother thinking of, to let you 
walk?" 

“Mother's dead." 

“Dear to goodness 1 I be sorry for that," I said 
“She was a right nice woman." 

“There's kind!" says Jancis, but without any heart 
in it 

She was like one who, in the game of Costly 
Colours , has risked all, playing the card called Costly, 
and lost it She was out of the game now, with noth- 
ing more to gain or lose I didna like to mention her 
dad, and she said nothing about him. 

“Well, your home's here," I said. “You know that, 
Jancis, my dear " 

“My home canna be here if Sam dunna love me, 
Prue " 

“Ah, but it is !" I cried out “Though I did swear on 
the Book to obey Gideon like a 'prentice, a wife, and 
a dog, yet this day I shall gainsay him You'll lie in 
my bed to-night, child. You and the little un will sleep 
at home from this time on " 

She gave a little sad smile, as if to say, “I wonder 
and lay holding the babe But now Tivvy, who'd been 
looking more and more sulky, burst out — 



ALL ON A AY ORNING 313 

“And will she sleep here indeed, Prue Sarn? I do 
think not! Maybe you dunna know as I’m going to 
wed with Sarn myself. Ah ! He’s got to wed me for 
my sake and for his own as well.” 

Jancis had opened her eyes and was watching her 
with a look like a Wise Woman’s I knew once, who 
could tell you your own thoughts 

“I know it ud be as well for you, Tivvy, if he did 
wed with you,” I said, pretty dry and sneering, for I 
never could abide Tivvy, and that’s the truth, “and I 
reckon he’d best not be too long about it, neither, and 
you Sexton’s girl and all! But the thing is, will he? 
And I’m pretty sure he never will I’m sorry for you, 
Tivvy, and I’d never have said a word afore Jancis, 
only you began it.” 

Tivvy’s face was scarlet, but she didna flinch 
“I said, good for him as well as for me,” she am 
swered 

“I canna see,” I says, and God forgive me for being 
so sharp with the girl, “how it ud be good for Gideon, 
in any way, to marry you ” 

“Oh! Well, I’ll soon show you,” she says 
“He did love Jancis once, Tivvy,” I told her. “And 
she was his dear acquaintance and his wife, all but the 
ring ” 

She took no notice of that. 

“I’ll tell you why it ud be good for Sam to marry 
e,” she said. “Foxglove tea! That’s why” 
“Foxglove tea? Are you crazy, Tivvy?” 
“Everybody knows as I know nought of yarbs 
Everybody knows Sam gave the cow foxglove leaves 



3i4 


PREC 10 US BANE 


You and I know that the doctor said your mother 
seemed as if she’d had foxglove ” 

She spoke slower and slower, leaning forrard with 
her hands on the table 

“Everybody knows, Prue Sarn, that your brother 
thought Missis Sarn a burden Everybody knows he 
does want to get on And / know, and if he dunna 
marry me pretty quick everybody else ’ll know too, 
what was in the tea he made for his mother and told 
me to give her strong ” 

“What was it?” I said, with a sickness at the heart 

“Foxglove!” 

She snapped out the word like a bite I knew it was 
true. 

“I can prove it,” she said, “because as it chanced 
Mother had come to bring Missis Sarn that night-rail 
she’d been sewing for ’er And when I came down 
from giving Missis Sarn her tea, I poured a cup for 
Mother, there being some left, and Mother said in a 
minute, 'This is foxglove tea 9 Ah, Mother knows 
right well what Missis Sarn died of, but she’ll never 
mouth it to a mouse if Sarn weds with me 99 

“Vll never believe it!” I cried out. But Tivvy 
says — 

“You will You believe it now.” 

And I did Jancis did, too. She gave a little moan 
and whispered — 

“It was foreboded, Prue ! It was to be I’ve no 
home now, Prue, no home on all this earth Neither 
baby nor me’s got anywhere to go. What shall us do, 
baby?” 

The baby, being spoken to and being well content 



ALL ON A 


A Y 


ORNING 31 <5 


with the meal it had just finished, gave a milky smile. 
Jancis shut her eyes and seemed to care no more what 
anybody said 

But Tivvy came to the settle, and she says — 

“If you stop the night over, we'll publish it all 
abroad, Jancis Beguildy!” 

And then I be sorry to say my temper was out, and 
I rushed at her and boxed her ears right well. 

“Go !” I says. “Go, you cruel wench, afore I maul 
you. I never hated afore But you I hate. How 
dare you be so curst to that poor child? You may 
settle with Gideon what you both do. But when you 
come over the door-sill, out go I. And for this day, 
out go you I” 

And I may say she went pretty quick, very startled 
to see meek Prue Sarn in such a temper. 

“Now lie you still, and rest, my dear/' I said. 
“While I go to Gideon. ,, 

“No. Dunna werrit Sarn, Prue,” she says. “But 
I'll rest Ah Baby and me's both in need of rest. 
We'll take a good long rest, Prue. And thank you 
kindly for all.” 

Out I went There was Gideon, working like seven. 
I do believe those unkind words he said to Jancis were 
but his way of brazening it out to his own heart I 
do believe there was a seed of love there even then, 
and if it hadna been for Tivvy it might have pushed 
up and flowered I«was never one to hiver-hover over 
things, so I walked up to Gideon and said — 

“Tivvy says you gave Mother poison. Be it 
true?” 

“By gum, that wench wants a good hiding!” says 



316 


PRECIOUS 


A N 


Gideon “And if she forces me to wed with her, that’s 
the bride-gift shell get” 

“You did give her foxglove tea to give Mother, 
then?” 

“Mother told me she’d liefer be dead than quick, 
and she was a burden ” 

He never tried to soften it nor deny it, for that 
wasna his way 

“Well, you be a murderer, and I’ve done with you,” 
i said 

“You swore to do as I said ” 

“Murder cancels all vows,” I answered 

“I dunna want Tivvy here. She’s no manner use.” 

“Seemingly you canna choose,” I said. “It’s Tivvy 
or hang, as far as I can see I’d save you if I could, 
for you be my brother, when all’s said, and I like you 
right well, too. When you’ve worked along of a per- 
son, furrow for furrow and spade for spade, as long 
as I’ve worked with you, lad, you do like the person 
right well, unless you hate him. And you I canna 
hate, though I’ve been trying to the last few minutes. 
Gideon t What for did you do such a wicked thing? 
Indeed to goodness you mun repent m dust and ashes, 
and think of nothing else at all, or the devil ’ll cer- 
tainly put his mark on you, so you’ll come to no good 
in this life, and go to the lowest hell in the other. Your 
own Mother, Gideon 

But all he’d say was — 

“She said she’d liefer be dead than quick, and she 
was a great burden ” 

“Well, I’m going, and so I warn you,” I said, in a 
passion. 



ALL ON A MAY 


0 R N X N G 317 


“I’m in behopes you’ll stay over hay and corn har- 
vest,” he answers, as cool as cool could be, just as if 
he’d done no wrong at all, which I believe m his own 
sight he hadna 

"No,” I said "Fix up with Tivvy ” 

"She’s no use in the harvest. She’s so bone-idle ” 
"I’ll stay till she comes, and no longer,” I said. 
"And I wouldna promise that, only I know she’s in a 
pretty taking to get wed quick I be right down dis- 
appointed with you, Gideon, on every count” 

"You’ve no right to be What have I done? Pu‘\ 
an old woman to sleep as wanted to sleep And as for 
Tivvy, she as good as asked me to ” 

Calm ? Oh, he was as calm as the mere when it was 
frozen deep. 

"And what about Jancis?” I burst out "What 
about that poor mommet of hers that you’ve brought 
into the world? They’re neither old nor forrard ” 

For answer, he pointed across to the blackened floor 
of the rickyard, and said — 

"You know wdiose child she is ” 

Then, under breath, he said, as if he’d forgotten 
me — "But I did love her once ” 

So I left him to his thoughts, and ran back to the 
house, calling out as I opened the back door — 

"Here, Jancis, my dear, I’ve brought the slatey 
hen’s egg to beat up in milk for you ” 

But no one answered, and when I came into the 
kitchen the settle was empty. 

I ran across the fold and out through the gate by 
the mixen into the road, into that good road the 
Romans did make, so many a year ago And yet, to 



318 precious bane 

the mere, that long while was but a little, for though 
it had been troubled two thousand times since then, so 
Parson said, yet it had been troubled uncounted thou- 
sands of times afore, and would be again, till the 
world and all shrivelled like the cast-off body of a 
dragon-fly. I ran along the road in the strong heat, 
and the sandy earth shone in the light, and the 
shadows were short and very dark. I ran round the 
first corner, that came soon, and the next, and even 
the next, m case she'd walked faster than I thought 
But there was nobody on the road, no white and gold 
mother with a white and gold mommet. Only the 
camomile, in clumps on the banks, was their colour, 
gold and white, and as I ran the strong scent of it 
caught my heart I thought maybe she'd gone up to 
my room to wash baby I ran back, calling and 
searching high and low. But there was nobody m the 
house save Pussy, who looked at me, sad, and ran into 
every room a bit m front of me I looked in the barn 
and the loft and the shippen. Why I should think she 
was there I canna say, only I was getting despert eager 
to find her by this I ran up the wood path, in case 
she’d had a fancy to walk there, where Gideon so 
often went to send her on her way home. I ran on 
and on, calling till the wood-pigeons flew up with a 
clattering noise, but nobody answered Only the for- 
est stood about me Only the varnished kingcups 
were yellow round the edges of fche mere, each clump 
of blossoms multiplied by two in the clear water, and 
the walls of thorn-bloom lay there, white and green 
A lost and lonesome feeling crept over me I went 
to Gideon in the garden at the back of the house. 



ALL ON A MAY MORNING 


3 X 9 


“I canna find Jancis,” I said 

“I told her to go back where she came from,” he 
answered, with the same manner of speaking as he 
had afore, brazening it out 

“She couldna do that,” I said, “for she's gotten no 
money and her mother's dead, and what’s come to her 
father only the assize court knows, seemingly, for she 
dunna She walked all the way from Silverton, Gid- 
eon She hadna any money for the coach. All those 
weary miles she walked to come to you And how 
did you make her welcome?” 

He said nought to that, but went on with his 
work. 

“You mun come and look for the poor girl,” I said. 
“Now This instant minute, you must come you 
must think of somewhere else to look Oh, think of 
somewhere else quick, Gideon * For I canna And if 
we canna think of anywhere else, there's only 

With a great shudder I pointed to the mere 

“What?” he said, very angered “What, you'd 
fntten me, would ye?” 

He smote the spade into the earth as if there was 
an enemy hid there, and came with me round the house 
and the buildings. Then he set off up the road, sav- 
ing she might have got a lift, which made me afraid 
for his wits, seeing that there was nobody to give lifts 
on that road but us and the ghostly chariots that 
people said you could hear, nights, rolling and grind- 
ing along the old road. But m a while Gideon came 
back, finding no sign of Jancis. 

“'We must drag the mere,” I said “We needna go 
far, I doubt. She'd soon be out of her depth, being so 



3^0 


PRECIOUS BANE 


little and small. And she'd no time to walk far She 
must have gone in by the caus’y here ” 

For, as I said afore, this broad stone caus’y that the 
Romans made ran from just in front of our house 
down into the village at the bottom of the mere, where 
the bells did play, they said, of an evening 

And it turned out that I was right, for there, just 
where the caus'y went into the water, was one of 
baby’s boots. I'd noticed that the ribbon was out of 
it, and that it was nearly off, and would have been 
right off if this un had been like other babes, kicking 
and laughing to feel its own might But it was only 
a poor stilly waxen creature, and so, doubtless, the 
boot stayed on till it felt the cold water, and struggled 
to find itself dying as it never did to find itself living. 

They lay there in a bed of lily leaves, and we took 
them up without a word and carried them within I 
washed them and dressed them m white, and we laid 
them on Mother's bed, and I mounded it up with 
flowers, white lilac, and thorn, golden day-lilies and 
golden cowslips, that the child should have made into 
tossy-balls in the time to come 

All the while, Gideon said nothing, nor did he look 
much at them, but went on with his work about the 
place. 

But the neighbours came, all the three days afore 
the funeral, from near and far. For the coming back 
of Jancis, and the child, and the*drowning, made such 
a tale as hadna been in our part of the country, where 
things go on middling quiet, even in the memory of 
Grandfeyther Callard 

They came and looked at her, and the women cried. 



ALL ON A MAY MORNING 


321 


though in her life they’d been hard as flint to Jancis. 
The younger men stood a while, saying nought, look- 
ing down upon her as if they were fain of her. 

'The sms of the fathers,” said Sexton, making an 
oration over those two, "and not only the sins of the 
fathers, for it’s no use to be mealymouthed, people, 
and though it be sad to say it, the poor wench was no 
better than she should be, for the child wunna bom 
in wedlock No, people, it wunna even a barley child, 
for there was no ring in the case at all We dunna 
know who the man was,” he went on, looking at 
Gideon in a way that showed he knew right well, and 
meant to say unless Gideon wed with Tivvy, "we 
dunna know that, but what we do know is, where she 
came from. We know who was her feyther, neigh- 
bours. We know she was sired by the devil’s odd- 
man. We know that the burning of the ricks was as 
nought, yea, and less than nought, compared with the 
things he did secret and unbeknown What’s come to 
pass was only what we had to expect, for what’s bred 
in the bone will come out in the flesh, dear souls ” 

"By their fruits ye shall know them, Matthew 
seven,” added Sammy. 

Then, looking down upon the two golden heads a 
good while, as you might look at some rare bird you’d 
never see again, he said, to himself and so low that I 
only heard because I was nighest to him — 

"They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and 
in their death they were not divided ” 

And he catched his breath a bit, forgetting chapter 
and verse. 

Callard’s children came two by two, to view thff 



322 


PRECIOUS BANE 


bodies And as they stood at the foot of the bed after, 
looking on the babe in the crook of its mother’s arm, 
suddenly they cried out all together, as they were 
taught to do about the baiting — 

“Oh, look’s pretty! The little mommet 1 ” 

And Miller nodded his head three times, as if to 
say, here were two kit-cats, where they should be 
Then Grandfeyther Callard stood out, and he said 
— “Two funerals in a month! It do make me think 
of the days when the great sickness was on the land, 
and we as were quick were weary of the buryings 
And strange it is, friends all, that these two should 
be dead, when their ages added together dunna amount 
to near thirty years, while I number one-and-ninety 
years and yet I’ve so far missed to catch the plague 
that ravens through this bitter old world — the ancient 
plague of dying ” 

Still Gideon said nothing But the night afore we 
took them to the churchyard I heard him stirring, and 
being afraid that in a sudden horror of the spirit he 
might do himself a mischief, for though a slow, quiet 
man in daily life, he could be, now and again, hasty 
of a sudden, I went to see what the matter was 

He was standing beside the bed As I went in he 
had just stretched forth his hand and lifted in his 
great brown fingers the plait of golden hair, so thick 
and fine, that was ever the pride of poor Jancis 
When he turned at my coming, h was like a lad taken 
in a fault, hanging his head and muttering, as if it 
~hould explain his act, which indeed it did — 

“I did love her once ” 



chapter five; The Last Game of Conquer 

TF it had not been that Parson said I must be careful 
to write all, and leave out none, since to know all 
made folks kind, but to know a part made ’em worse 
than if they knew nothing, if it hadna been for "that, 
I’d never have tried to write of those three months at 
Sam betwixt the time of the death of Jancis and the 
time of the troubling of the waters. For there are 
some things so hard to write of that even a great 
scholar might boggle at it, and I, though I can do the 
tall and the short script, am not anything of a scholar, 
and words be hard to find for some things I think, 
times, that in our mortal language there are no words 
for the things that are of most account So, when 
those things come upon us we are struck silent, and 
can but feel and feel, till our hearts are like a bursting 
dam Maybe, in the life yonder, that already I begin 
to glimpse on the edge of this world, we shall find the 
proper words. But not yet So, if I fail in what I’ve 
set out to do, you must pardon what I canna help, and 
fill up the glats in my speech with the brushwood of 
your own imagining. 

The strangest par$ of that time was the silence of 
it Gideon had always been a silent man, but now 
he was as bad as the miller He’d come and he’d go, 
but not a word would pass his lips. And sometimes 
he’d stop all of a sudden, as he went about his work, 





3 2 4 


PRECIOUS BANE 


as if he'd been struck of a heap by summat. His 
thoughts, I guessed it to be Then he'd straighten 
his shoulders, and mighty shoulders they were, and 
go about his work again. I thought it would pass 
in time, and as nothing was settled between him and 
Tivvy yet, I made up my mind not to leave the poor 
lad all alone, but to bide still for a while. Tivvy was 
in a fix, for she was determined to have Gideon, and 
yet sfie was so mortal afraid of the frittening, for the 
frittemng is said to be very bad in a place where 
mother and babe die together, that she durstna set foot 
our side of the mere at all. So there we were, in a 
thick, cruddled silence, that grew ever more and more 
solid like freezing water or souring milk Save for 
the birds, that minded their own affairs and took no 
thought of us, there were no voices uplifted at Sarn 
Evenings, when they hushed, it fell so still that I 
could hear Gideon’s boat, moored just by the begin- 
ning of the caus'y, knocking and knocking with small, 
reminding taps. And, times, in the kitchen of a night, 
when Gideon was out, working late at the hoeing of 
the young corn or at the haying, I'd hold up a bit of 
tasty victuals to Pussy just to make her mew And 
I'd say, "There, now thee's mewed! Good Pussy!" 

When he was in, Gideon was as dumb as the 
drowned, save that once, on a night of bright moon- 
light when we were having our supper late aftei hay- 
ing, he leaned forrard of a sudden and said — 

“Did ye see that?" 

“What?” I says 

“Why, somebody went by the door, in a white 
own " 



THE LAST GAME OF CONQUER 325 

But it wasna till July, in a spell of very thundery 
weather, hot and still and gloomy, that hts strange- 
ness came upon him m good earnest I was sitting in 
the doorway, to get what air there was, for it drew 
off the mere, evenings. I was carding wool, and the 
white of it, heaped up on my black, made me look like 
a magpie, I thought The lilac leaves were limp with 
the heat, and the mere like hot lead to look at, with 
the tall thick trees around it, carven out of iron. - All 
round the marges of the mere were the lilies, lying 
on the heavy water, their small white buds shining. 
Not a bird spoke, for all were in their coverts, since 
the heat was so great Even the water-birds stayed 
among the reeds, and the boat had given over knock- 
ing on the steps, as if the day was fixed now for the 
passenger to come, and there was no more to do till 
then Suddenly Gideon came round the corner all 
m a sweat of haste, with the brummock in one hand 
and his hedging gloves still on, for he was busy at the 
hedges between hay and corn harvest He stopped 
when he saw me, and put hand to head, and then 
broke out m a passion — 

“What for do ye sit there the like of that, making 
game you’re Mother?” 

“I never made game to be Mother,” I said. 
“Whatever ails you?” 

“Mother was used to sit there and card wool. I 
thought you were Mother.” 

“Well, I couldna help that,” I said “But what did 
you come round the corner in such a courant for?” 

“I was pleaching the big thorn hedge, and she came 
upon the top of it, all in white.” 



326 


PRECIOUS BAN 


“Who came upon the top of it?” I asks, impatient 

“Jancis,” he says, as quiet as could be, not as if he 
was saying anything strange, but just as he might 
speak of seeing Tivvy or Polly Miller. He said no 
more, but went back to his work, though he gave up 
the hedge. He’d never argue at all about what he 
saw, but just say he saw it, and that was all. The 
next time was when he was hoeing in the big wheat 
field. He came into the house, very hasty, with the 
hoe and all, and said he’d seen Jancis ploughing with 
her two white oxen, in the barley field, and the child 
siting up on the mghest ox. 

“Now look you, Gideon,” I said, “you mun leave 
thinking of Jancis, or you’ll be possessed And a man 
possessed is pretty far on to madness You just think 
of getting on and scraping and saving as you used to, 
and dunna think of Jancis or Mother till you’re more 
settled in your mind ” 

“I dunna think of Jancis. She just comes” 

“Well, set your mind on other things and she 
wunna.” 

“What things?” 

“Why, getting rich, and getting the house.” 

“What for?” 

“For the same reason you began of it. Because 
you want it ” 

“I dunna want it now ” 

“But why? You wanted it s<5 much, you poisoned 
Mother. You wanted it so much, you gave the nay- 
word to Jancis Let alone all the things you did afore, 
you must have been pretty well clemmed for it to do 
as you did.” 



THE LAST GA E OF CONQU 327 

“Well, I dunna want it now.” 

“What for not?” 

“Summat went out of it when I did see 'em in the 
water.” 

“Well, think of Tivvy, then. She'd like to go to 
the Hunt Ball, I know.” 

“I wunna take up with Tivvy. I'd liefer swing.” 

“Miss Dorabella, then. She's sweet on you. Take 
up with her, and she'll spend her money to saveyo 
from Tivvy.” 

“Dorabella's abron. I like a fair woman Little. 
With blue eyes. A woman like may and milk ” 

“Well, think of me then. Be a bit of company for 
me now and again.” 

“But you be going ” 

“Not till you’re more settled in mind, lad. I'll stop 
on a bit, if you'll keep a cheerful heart, and not call 
old grief to mind.” 

But it was no use In less than a week he came i 
all of a hurry and said — 

“She's at it again ” 

“What, ploughing?” 

“Ah. And the barley field's as bald as a coot” 

“It's bad seed,” I says, “that's what it is, Gideon. 
It's because you had to buy instead of putting in our 
own.” 

But my heart was heavy, and I couldna see what 
the end of this would, be. I even wished Tivvy would 
come. 

It got to be the usual thing for him to say — 

“She came again m the wood to-day ” Or he'd say — 
“Look ye! There she is, drawing in to the caus'y. 



328 


PRECIOUS BANE 


There! Now she’s coming up the caus’y, dripping 
wet There! Now she’s gone.” 

Once he said she beckoned from the boat But it 
was always out of doors he saw her, so the house was 
a kind of refuge, and when he suffered that strange 
fear, in he’d come, and be more himself. I was glad 
he never saw anything in the house. I was glad, too, 
that he never heard anything It was like as if, being 
smitten to the heart with the sight of her in the water, 
he’d lost the power to choose what he i saw, but could 
still choose what he heard. And then, at the begin- 
ning of August month, when the corn was just on 
ripe, he came in and said she’d been singing Green 
Gravel across the water 

‘The sound comes in here,” he said, anxious. So I 
shut the window 

“Best put some wool in your ears,” I said. For 
indeed it was pitiful to see a man like Gideon 
trembling at a gleam of white in the hedge or an echo 
across the water. So he put wool in his ears and we 
got on pretty well through the first part of August. 
Then, it was the evening afore the fair at Sarn Mere, 
and many of the booths were already set up We sat 
down early to our supper because there had come a 
letter from Miss Dorabella, brought by one of their 
men, with news in it about Beguildy. So I opened the 
letter and read it to Gideon, and he took the wool out 
of his ears to hear ; and what itrsaid was that they’d 
let Beguildy off light, because he’d had great provoca- 
tion on account of his daughter. 

“Domm*” says Gideon. The blazing hate in him 
burnt up afresh at hearing of the light sentence, and 



THE LAST GA E OF CONQUER 329 


I almost thought it might cure him of seeing things. 
But in a little while he fell into his melancholy again, 
and said he'd seen Mother in the oak wood, where the 
pigs were. 

“Now, dear to goodness," I said, “it was nobody 
in the world but Miller's Polly. She's getting a big 
girl for her age, and Mother was but little." 

“No," he said. “It was Mother. They bother me, 
Prue." 

“There, there !" I said, patting him on shoulder like 
a child. For indeed when he spoke of his haunting, 
he seemed as weak and full of fear as a child in the 
dark. 

“Now see, it'll all come right," I said “You 
must be well plucked and not mind. You was used 
to be so fond of Conquer Well, now you must play 
Conquer with your own thoughts." 

But he only looked at me as if he didna understand, 
and said — 

“What she didna like was me speaking unkind of 
the babe Very touchy, mothers be, about their 
babes " 

We sat quiet a bit, and then he said, all of a sudden 
— “Hark ye ! She's singing Green Gravel ” 

He listened a long while, though I could hear 
othing 

Then he leaned forrard and said she was coming 
up off the caus’y toe ts the house. His face broke out 
in a sweat, as if he was feared out of his life. But 
indeed the weather was enough to make anybody 
sweat without that, it was so hot and dank at once, 
the worst weather of all at Sarn, which never had 



330 


PRECIOUS BANE 


much air, being down in a hollow, and which was 
always damp from the water. On an evening such as 
this, the walls ran down with water, so that the white- 
wash shone as if with the tracks of many snails. 
Over the mere a mist was rising, in trails and wisps, 
white as wool, thickening and gathering into clotted 
heaps towards the mid of the mere. Sometimes a 
wreath of mist would be drawn out like a scarf, and 
other times it would stand up in the shape of a woman, 
but wavering upon the air. It seemed to me it might 
well be one of these ghosts of mist that Gideon had 
seen. For they rose and sank about the caus’y all the 
while, as the light airs on the water took them At 
Sarn in August there were always heavy mists night 
and morning, and this was out of the common bad, 
because we’d had thunder-rain the night before, and a 
day of brooding heat after it Bad, I say, because I 
never could abide mist, and we had such a deal of it, 
so that sometimes it blotted the farm and the woods 
and the church right out, as if the mere had turned to 
milk, and risen up and drowned all. 

“Hark says Gideon “Can you hear Green 
Gravel ?” 

So strong was his mind, and so much it had the 
mastery over mine, that I almost thought I did hear 
a wailing song. And then, without any warning, sit- 
ting m the big arm-chair with a set, yearning face, 
like a man enchanted, as I do tfunk he was, Gideon 
began to sing the song himself. He held up his right 
hand, solemn, like parson giving the blessing, and he 
looked out through the doorway toerts the mere and 
the caus'y and the slow, white, curdling mist. He 



THE LAST GAME OF CONQUER 33X 


sang as if some power was on him that made him. 
You could see he was bound to smg He had a rolling 
voice, a fine bass it was; and though he began very 
softly, it strengthened as he went on, till the music 
seemed to master the place And the way he made 
that childish song mean such a deal ! — all the love he’d 
had for Jancis, and how he’d wanted her to have 
everything so grand, and go to the Ball like a lady, 
and all the fear and pity of her ending It see-med 
as if he was easier in mind after, having, as it were, 
given m and so made peace Still watching the door, 
he says — • 

“Here*s Jancis. Soused with water she is, out of 
the mere ” 

So I said I saw nothing. 

“Why, look’s the water dripping off her gown he 
said “See there, and there, where she goes! Sog- 
gmg wet she is, by gum !” 

He pointed to the floor, and indeed there was water 
in all the little hollows in the quarries, as if the mere 
had found a way to soak up through the floor So I 
said, yes, I saw the water m the hollows of the 
quarries 

“Hark at the mud in her boots sooking* Muddy, 
the mere is. See now, how slow she comes — slow, 
like she used to walk when she spun with the big 
wheel She walks slow because her clo’es are so heavy 
about her It’s uphitt and agen the heart for Jancis, 
with the mommet to carry all alone ” 

Then he said, worried — 

“I wish I hadna mocked at the babe ” 

A long while went by The sounds in the room 



33 * 


PRECIOUS BANE 


were less than on the evening Father died It was 
as if Sarn, all the live part of it, us and our beasts, 
the trees full of birds, and the wood ways with wild 
creatures m them, had sunk to the bottom of the mere 
where the village was I was beginning to believe all 
Gideon said, which was not so very different, after 
all, from many a tale of frittenmg we’d heard. 

“Look ye now he muttered “She’s going toerts 
the dairy door There, she’s gone! ’Twas m the 
dairy I gave her the nay-word that time afore she 
went to Grimble’s There now, she’s coming back. 
Her yellow head does shine so, she makes me call to 
mind that wandering light at Lullmgford New 
House ” 

He was leaning forrard, staring down the dimmery 
passage that led to the dairy. 

“There, look’s the wet floor 1 ” he said “It’s like as 
if she’d brought the mere in along of her I never 
thought she’d come in the house A castle’s easy kept 
when none comes against it. But now — ” 

He looked down at the wet quarries a good while. 
“Why, she’s gone!” he said then “Like a golden 
bee sailing away on the air, and singing as she goes. 
Look’s pretty!” 

He stayed brooding a long time Then he got up 
and told me he was going to see to the stock, for the 
evening was well on to night He said that in his 
usual way, and I thought the fattening had lifted 
from his mind But as he went out, he turned, and 
looked at me just as he did the night Beguildy went 
to seek a seventh child, and said — 

“If I’m late, put the key over the stable door ” 

I thought no, if he was out so much as a half-hour, 



THE LAST GAME OF CONQUER 333 

I should go after him Indeed I almost did then. 
Summat told me to go But it seemed so queer, when 
he was only going to see to the stock, to run after 
him. So I stayed where I was and began looking in 
Beguildy’s book, that I bought at the sale, and in the 
Bible, to see if I could find any cure for such bewitch- 
ments I hadna been reading more than half an hour, 
if so much, and I suppose it was about nine o’clock, 
though it seemed later because of the muffling mist 
and the silence, when all of a sudden there was a 
taboring at the door, and in rushed Miller’s Tim and 
Polly too 

“Oh, Prue, Prue! we’d just brought the pigs along, 
being late because the black un wouldna come out of 
the rushes, and we’d put ’em in yard, quiet, for fear 
Mister Sarn ud be angry with us for being late, and 
we were looking for glow-worms under the orchard 
hedge, when out comes Mister Sarn So we hid. 
And looking from under the hedge we saw him, 
standing by the water, with his head stooped forrard 
a bit, like a horse with the staggers And I told Polly 
what I heard Granfeyther Callard say 'Sarn?’ he 
says, 'Oh, Sarn’s known frittening of the beautiful 
bogey out of the mere, and he’ll never be his own man 
again ’ And while I was whispering that to Polly, 
Mister Sarn lifted up his head and seemed to look all 
around at everything, only there was not much but 
mist. Then he turned toerts the caus’y, going like a 
chap in his sleep, and went down the caus’y to the boat, 
and untied the boat, and got in and took up the oars, 
and rowed with big strokes away from the farm 
straight out where the caus’y went, to the mid of the 
lake So we ran round to see if we could .get a blmk 



J34 


PRECIOUS BAN 


of him, but he was in the mist The noise of the oars 
went on for a while, and I wished I was m the boat 
But m a bit I was glad I was on dry land. The sound 
of the rowing stopped/' 

“Ah Dead as dead it stopped/' said Polly 
“We held our breath to see if we could hear aught, 
but no J It was like the text parson learned us last 
Sunday, There was silence over all the land till the 
ninth hour ' Oh, it was solemn." 

“You should have come to me then," I said. “But 
quick now ! What else ?" 

“Why nothing else at all," says Tim, “saving a 
great splash I never heard such a splash, not even 
when the brindled calf fell into the water " 

“Ah Dear to goodness, it was a splash!" says 
Polly. 

“Then it went quieter and quieter, and we held 
breath and listened, but there was nought And I did 
call on Mister Sarn's name, but none answered. And 
I was feared and so was Polly, and we ran to you " 
The boat ! I must get to the boat. I ran down the 
caus'y, tearing off my skirt, but there was no need to 
swim, for the boat was coming back, since the air 
drew from the other end of the mere, sending the 
currents toerts us, and these currents were stronger 
at the time of the troubling of the waters A dreadful 
thing it was to see that empty boat come stealing in, 
slow, slow I catched it and r got in, taking up the 
oars which Gideon had unshipped, for even in this 
hour he couldna do anything slipshod or careless. I 
pulled out, calling to the children to run for Sexton, 
he being the nighest. They were soon gone, and glad 
^o go. And I rowed out to the mid of the lake, feel* 



THE LAST GAME OF CONQUER 33$ 


ing in the water with the oars, looking here and there, 
and calling his name, though I knew all the while it 
was too late. I was still rowing and calling when I 
heard Sexton shout from the shore. 

“Me and Sam will go while you rest a bit ,” he said. 
“But well never find Sarn. You canna drag the 
mere out there. It's too deep. None were ever found 
that went in there.” 

They rowed away, and as they came toward^ the 
middle of the mere. I heard them singing, as w eV 
sung over Father long ago — 

“Your good deeds and your bad, dear man , 
Afore the Lord shall meet ” 

Only they left out about the turf at head and foot, 
for the water was his grave Ah! The whole of that 
great stretch of water wasna too much to make the 
grave of a man as strong as that one The mile-long 
mist that lay upon the place wasna too grand a shroud. 
For though he was wrong, and did evil, and hurtid 
folks with his strength, yet he never did meanly, nor 
turned out bad work, nor lied. “The granite moun- 
tain, quartzite, b’rytes,” he said once to me, speaking 
of his own hardness. And he was like them all. He 
could no more give in than the granite can crumble 
like sandstone. And now he*d played his last game 
of Conquer , and wh*tt he played with wasna one of 
the big pink-and-white ones, but his own life. 

And since the other player was one that none can 
ever hope to conquer, it shivered into brittle frag- 
ments in a moment, and so Gideon Sarn lost his last 
game. 



chapter six: The Breaking of the Mere 


HP HAT was a night of grief and fear which nothing 
T in life has ever made me forget. Sexton and 
Sammy, after a vain search, went home I was alone 
under the coverlet of fog, in that place full of ghostly 
footsteps. I said a prayer for dying men Then I 
sat hour by hour beside the fire, in that dim slothful- 
ness of the spirit which a great sorrow or a great 
amazement will bring It was the strangest Wake 
Eve I’d ever known, and the most grievous night of 
all my life. I thought how Gideon forbade me to go 
down into the water as folk did of old time, and be 
cured of my ill And now, see! he was gone down 
into the mere himself, to be cured of his own curse. 
Then I thought of golden Jancis, and the little babe, 
and Missis Beguildy, and Father and poor Mother, 
all dead too It seemed Death had been very busy at 
if, swiving among us. Ah ! It was a bitter watching, 
for I ever liked those I cared for to be in good case. 
A year back, there was Jancis chosen for the sport 
called Heaving the Chair, for which the prettiest girl 
was always called out There «she was in her blue 
gown, I minded it well, with a crown of summer 
flowers on her head and a posy in her hand, lifted high 
in the chair by two strapping young fellows, while the 
rest came by, one by one, to see who she’d choose. 

336 



THE BREAKING OF THE MERE 337 


All the young chaps were m it, but only one girl, so 
you may guess there was a deal of heart-searching 
over who’d be chosen 

They gave her a posy, and one fellow held a basm 
of water, and when she’d chosen her chap, she dipped 
the posy m the water and smote his face with it, which 
made everybody laugh 

And Jancis had chosen Gideon, of course, and he’d 
waited till the very last, because it pleased him to 
see all the others turned away and to know he wouldna 
be. And she smacked his face well with the posy, 
and gave her sweet, tinkling laugh, and then he lifted 
her down, which was part of the game, and gave her 
a kiss, which wunna And I thought now, how 
untoert a thing it was that she should have soused 
his face with water, as if in token that she should 
baptize him in the mere, ’ticing him to his death, and 
that it was the coming round of the fair day that had 
been the last straw So I sighed, thinking — ‘we be 
all His mommets, and He orders the play ’ 

I called to mind also how Gideon won the guinea 
for whistling best and clearest He could whistle 
very well, and also he could keep his face straight in 
spite of all the fooling of the merry-andrew, who tried 
to make them laugh For if Gideon was at the mak- 
ing of money he took it in such good sadness that 
nothing in the world could even make him smile. 
Beguildy whistled wdl also, but his best chance of a 
prize was always the yawning match, in which Gran- 
feyther Callard ran him very close Beguildy would 
:ome to the fair, though it angered Sexton, who per- 
sisted m saying it was a festival of the Church, and 



33 § 


PRECIOUS BAN 


not for wizards, and who made himself very busy 
about everything, as if he was chief man. 

Thinking of all this, I was sick at heart, for what 
is there more grievous than calling to mind old, merry 
randies? Then you say, “Ah, this one or that one 
was here then/' And you remember how you were so 
strong in your joy, you could even be merry over 
jests that played upon great and solemn things You call 
to rcund how such an one said, '"A goose walks over 
my grave !” and laughed And you remember that 
the one who said it has been under the sod a long 
while So the thought of last year's fair set me cry- 
ing, though the drowning of Gideon didna Indeed, 
it was out of the ornary strange, his dying, and not 
like the common lot, for he neither died in his bed 
nor by violence, but went into the mist of his own 
will and wish, and then was not. And that we never 
found him seemed to me only a rightful ending to a 
life which so cut itself adrift from all pleasant, feck- 
less human ways and doings. He belonged to none, 
seemingly, for he gave the go-by to his nearest kin 
What he had most truck with was the earth and the 
water from which he was building himself a life to 
his mind Rock, and troubled water, heavy earth, 
trees groaning yet unyielding in the storm, all these 
he was kin to, though he didna love them He took 
hold of them, browbeat them, made them his'n And 
in the doing of it he fell, as it <were, among thieves, 
for they took hold of him and made him their slave. 
It seemed to me he couldna die like other men, and 
be sodded, and lie in six feet of soil, and have a name- 
stone No He must have lar room and be free 



THE BREAKING OF THE MERE 339 


of all, roaming at will in the troubled currents of the 
mere, m the mid of his own farm and his own wood-* 
land How can you cry for such a thing as this? 
Can you cry about a thunder-bolt or a cloud-burst? 
No. It was only when I remembered those few times 
when he gave in that I could cry for him, as when I 
called to mind how he put his arm across his face at 
the fire, and sobbed 

All that night I thought of him, and the dark *waf* 
full of cold fear, and a horror gathered about the 
place, it seemed so lone, as if it didna belong to the 
world at all I knew I couldna spend another night 
there, and I began wondering what to do with the live 
stock, since nobody else would set foot here after 
such doings No, not if it was ever so! Sexton 
refused out and out, and if he wouldna, nobody 
would Not a soul would buy the place, and though 
I could leave the fields we’d laboured on to go back 
into wood and heath, yet the live stock must be seen 
to as long as it was there Yet I was determined to 
bide there no longer, but to flee away as they did from 
the cities of the plain, not for any fault in the place, 
but for what Gideon had made of it I’d shift to- 
morrow. But what to do with the beasts I couldna 
think, for if I asked anyone even so much as to water 
them, they’d say, “No, no, missus, there’s summat tc 
be seen there.” 

At last came the blessed dawn, and the mist lay like 
a vasty shining cloud on the place, but as the sun 
swam up, full of power and warmship, not to be 
gainsayed, the mist came loose all in a piece, and lifted 
slow, till there was a space betwixt its under side and 



340 


PRECIOUS BANE 


the mere, where the coots swam, like bees running 
about between two boards. Then one half of the tree- 
trunks came free, so that the forest seemed to be 
mounded up with snow It lifted and lifted, and at 
last went into the sky, and failed amid the clouds 
of dawn Then the clouds faded, and there were only 
the proper heavens, blue as bird's eye. As soon a* 
the mist lifted, I saw that the mere had broken in the 
night, and the water was thick and troubled, simmer- 
ing all over, so that the lilies were stirred as they lay 
anchored When the blessed sunshine came, a way 
out came also into my mind It was fair day 
There’d be a sight of people here Why not take the 
creatures to the fair, and make a pen, and get some- 
body to sell them ? They could go cheap Ah That 
was it 1 So when I’d fed the stock, and milked, I 
fetched all into the fold, to be ready, and tidied the 
house, drawing the curtains, and set out to Sexton’s 
to ask if I could put up a pen and bring the beasts, 
and get the crockman to sell them by auction, as he 
sold his wares Sexton didna care about it much, 
but seeing he knew he’d got no authority, and the fair 
being held m our wood, he could do no else than 
agree Tivvy looked very spitefully at me, for she 
wanted sore to be missus at Sarn, not to speak of her 
being sweet on Gideon, and she seemed to blame me 
that all had gone wrong But I’d no time to waste, 
for already the first waggons were coming to the fair 
ground It was still the custom then to deck out a 
waggon for each village with flowers and boughs, to 
bring the people Or sometimes the young ones would 
walk, the men and women in separate companies 



THE BREAKING OF THE MERE 341 


singing as they came But they went back two by 
two, men and maids They were setting out the booths 
when I went by, spiced ale and the gingerbread-babies 
Moll liked, mint cakes and pebble brooches and combs 
to stand high in the hair A woman had lit a fire and 
was getting ready the huge bowl of hasty pudding for 
the trial, which could eat it hot quickest The wag- 
gons rolled along the wood ways with the same sound 
as at our harvest home. The folk chattered like g^lot 
of jays, until they came to the fair ground and heard 
the news about Gideon I could hear when each wag- 
gon heard tell, for a hush fell on all Then I suppose 
they thought, well, they were a-nigh the church, that 
w r as on holy ground, and the accursed place was at 
the other end of the mere, so they took heart and 
began to chatter again. I saw Mister Huglet and 
Mister Grimble, thick as thieves, and they scowled 
at me as I went by 

All along the wood-path there was a great stirring 
of dragon-flies, and the lustre-coloured damsels looked 
grand, sailing over the crimson bosses of dragon's 
blood, that is the wild geranium I thought, The 
wind lifts in the branches, the lilies be in blow, the 
dragon-flies be coming out of their shrouds, but 
Kester Woodseaves has forgot me ' For by this he 
was to have raught back And why should he 
remember a woman with a curse upon her, a hare- 
shotten woman, in danger of being accused of witch- 
craft? No, he wouldna call me to mind again He'd 
take up with that young woman he spoke of thai 
didna spare her blushes. 

When I got home, I gathered together all the sheep 



342 


PRECIOUS BANE 


and pigs, the cows and oxen, and drove them, ridin 
upon Bendigo, to the fair By good fortune they 
were all fain of me and went wdiere I told them. Then 
I went back and put the fowl and ducks, the geese and 
turkeys m boxes and hampers, and wheeled them on 
the barrow. Fd left them shut up, to catch them the 
sooner. The people stared when they saw me riding 
through the wood with my flocks and herds afore me, 
forjthe creatures made a great stir, baaing and grunt- 
ing and mooing, mislikmg the woods And as we 
went, there we all were in the troubled water, dimly 
shadowed, and I thought how we had been reflected 
there when we buried Father. Then, all the fields 
and barns, fold and shippen, being void of life, I put 
Pussy in a basket and locked the door. And I thought, 
now the ghosts could have the place, yes, all of them, 
even as far back as Tim, that had the lightning in his 
blood My vow that I took to Gideon was cancelled 
now Fd no more to do here What should I stay 
for, with nobody to ask a hand’s turn of me? I was 
for the road. What road I didna know, but I thought 
it would be lonely Fd packed a few things to leave 
with Miller, for him to take to Lullingford, else, I had 
what I stood in, and the old Bible, and my book So 
I set forth from the farm, where Sarns had been time 
out of mind It was hard to leave the fields Fd 
laboured so long upon, but it would have been harder 
to stay. I shivered to think how the church spire 
would point across the water at the haunted house this 
night, lying over that deepest, darkest place where 
Gideon was. 

They were selling the things by the time I got back 



THE B 


AKING OF THE 


ERE 343 


to the fair, with a pewter tankard to put the mone>’ 
in So, not wishing to have part or lot m the merry- 
making, I sat down on the churchyard wall to wail 
till all was done and I might go The bidding was 
pretty brisk, for the beasts didna carry any curse, folk 
supposed, though they did come from an ill place. 
Sexton bought Bendigo, and Moll’s father bought this 
oxen for his maister. Callard had some of the cows, 
the other things were bought up in good time, alTd I 
gave Pussy to Felena, because I thought she had a 
good heart, though not much respectability — or maybe 
it was because of that 

She said — 

“Do you get tidings of Weaver, Prue?” 

“No,” I said “We’ve not heard this long while.” 

“He’s one in many,” she said. “Ah! He does 
seem to me to be of other stuff than we are As if he 
came from afar Do you mind how we played Costly 
for Weaver’s soul, you and me ? But I doubt 
some fine madam in the city ’s catched his soul by 
this ” 

All the while, as we talked, and as I sat lonesome 
on the churchyard wall, I was ware of black looks 
cast at me, side-glances, a pushing out of the lips, and 
lifting of shoulders, and some would draw away a bit 
as I passed I wondered what this might be, for 
though the old tales about me had gone on growing 
in the lonely farms^* as I knew, and though a mis- 
fortune is enough, times, to turn people against you, 
as if they thought it was the hand of the Lord meting 
punishment for sin, yet it didna seem to me enough 
to explain the looks I got, which did cut me to the 



344 


PRECIOUS BANE 


heart, for m them I saw hatred I ever loved my 
kind, and as I once said, I was like one standing at 
the lane ends with a nosegay to offer to the world as 
it rode by But instead, it rode me down Ah* On 
this day of mid August, m the time of the troubling 
of the waters, it rode me down. 

I was considering, and wondering what to do, for 
I was waiting for some people who were driving to 
Bramton, and would take me, and so I should be part 
way to Silverton If I went now, I'd get no lift, and 
besides, the money couldna be counted till it was all 
in, so the crockman could take his pay of so much m 
the shilling On both counts I was bound to wait. 

Missis Miller came up, quiet, and said she'd been 
there since the first and she'd heard a deal said about 
me, and the whispers were started by Grimble and 
Huglet, here one and there one, saying this and that, 
with a nod or a wink, maybe, or a shaking of the head, 
and, “Pity A tidy young woman, too 1” Or, “Sum- 
mat should be done about it Parson otfght to see 
about it " So the talk got fixed on me, she said, and 
no sooner did they tire of speaking of the manner of 
Gideon's death than they'd start of me The younger 
ones had been brought up on tales of how I roamed 
the country at night m the body of a hare, and had 
a muse under this very churchyard wall. Miss Dora- 
bella's words at the Mug o' Cider had stayed in 
people's minds, and then the firf had fixed on us the 
idea of a curse, for though Beguildy did it, yet 'twas 
thought the Lord wouldna have suffered him to do it 
at a righteous farm Then the drowning of Jancis 
made things ten times blacker, and Gideon's death put 



THE BREAKING OF THE MERE 345 


the last touch to it There was something here that 
the folks couldna understand The only cause for 
all the misfortune that they could see was the curse 
of God There must have been a Jonah m our ship, 
they thought. And as Mother had always been liked, 
and Gideon thought pretty well of, as a man bound to 
get on, it seemed to them that I must be the one that 
called down the curse They'd reasoned it out slow, 
as we do in the country, but once they came teethe 
end of the reasoning they were fixed, and it would 
take a deal to turn them. This was the reason for 
the hating looks, the turnings aside, the whispers I 
was the witch of Sarn I was the woman cursed of 
God with a hare-shotten lip I was the woman who 
had friended Beguildy, that wicked old man, the devil’s 
oddman, and like holds to like And now, almost the 
worst crime of all, I stood alone. I may say that in 
our part of the country, whatever happened in other 
parts, it was thought suspicious to stand alone. This 
might be because m those lost and forgotten farms 
in the mountains and the flooded lands about the 
meres, where in the long winters the winds would 
howl around the corners of the house like wolves, and 
there was talk of old terrible things — men done to 
death in sight of home ; the fretting of unhappy ghosts 
at the bottle-glass windows, that once they owned, 
but now were the wrong side of ; the dreadful music 
of the death pack ; th t howl of witches such as I was 
said to be, riding with blown leaves upon the gale; 
the threat of gentlemen of the road who had long lain 
at the crossways — nobody could choose to be alone, 
\nd nobody without good reason would condemn an- 



346 


PRECIOUS BANE 


other to be alone Therefore, if you were alone you 
were as good as damned 

I canna tell you what a sinking of the heart all this 
gave me For to one that can feel the love and hate 
of others flowing about her without word spoken, and 
who can only do well m warmship of the soul, even 
a little mishkmg is enough to nip the blossom 

“Now,” says Missis Miller, “I know what it's like, 
a bit, for mine's said to be under a curse, and cause 
he gives, indeed, but you dunna, and I say, ‘Beware 
of Gnmble !' He's fause, is Grimble Huglet's all of 
a roar, but you know what he's after With Grimble 
you dunna He'll drop a word here and a word there 
like thistledown, and you see nought and think nought, 
but dear to goodness, what a crop of thistles* And 
I doubt the thistles be all up and just about in blow ” 
While she was yet speaking, Tivvy darted up to 
me, all m black, for she'd given out that she was 
promised to Gideon, and she says — 

“You boxed my ears, Prue Sarn* Now see!” 
With that she jumped up on the wall and shouted 
out — “People all, I'll speak this once and no more A 
wronged woman I am Sarn was promised to wed 
with me to-day's five months, and it's five months 
gone that I should have been Missis Sarn For Sarn 
did love me right well. But she stopped it Prue 
Sarn stopped it For she put me in such mortal fear, 
I couldna come near the place. ^Clouted me, she did 
And she being a witch, I was afraid of her She 
wanted to be missus there, seesta* Couldna abide 
ybody else to have a say in things. And see what's 
come to pass! She's missus there altogether now, 



THE BREAKING OF THE MERE 34/ 


and the very next day after my poor Sarn's death she 
sells all. Oh, she's a heartless piece! There's no 
wickedness she wouldna do Five months I'd ought 
to have been Missis Sarn, but for her. She's s 
strong, because she's a witch l” 

I was astounded at the furious way she said it, ti 
I remembered that she was expecting a love-child, 
which was ten times worse as she was Sexton's daugh- 
ter, and what Sexton would do when he knew^was 
awful to think of, and so Tivvy must have somebody 
to put the blame on. But no sooner was she finished 
than up gets Grumble. There he stood, with his long 
nose pointing down as if he was considering, among 
all he could say, what he’d fix on 

“People," he began, “this is a solemn day In this 
here water lies a fine farmer. Ah f A man as would 
have made a mark on Sarn Look at the ploughing 
he’d done ! Bound to be rich, he was. Promised to a 
tidy young woman, too, and a righteous, for we know 
that her brother can come as pat with a text as any 
man even m the memory of Granfeyther Callard " 

“Ah That's righteous calls out the old man from 
the cart where he sat “But old Camperdine could 
run him pretty close, the one as Beguildy had in bottle, 
I mean. Ah f He was a good un with a text whe 
he was in liquor ! I’ve heard him roll 'em out till you 
wanted a yard-stick to measure 'em But when he 
was sober, not a text would he say. Very bawdy he 
was then But in liquor, oh, indeed to goodness it was 
a miracle !" 

“As I say," Mister Grimble went on in his reason- 
able voice, “her brother can mouth a text, her father' 



348 


PRECIOUS BANE 


Sexton, her mother’s Sexton’s married wife, so it 
stands to reason she’s a good young woman And 
you’ve heard what she said I tell you, what she says 
is true, and more than true. Now listen Since birth 
Prudence Sarn’s been a woman smitten by the Lord. 
What she does she canna altogether help, being m the 
power of Satan That’s why she roams the land, as 
we know. That’s why she was friend to Beguildy, 
andjearned all his wickedness off him, for like finds 
like That’s why she puts her eye on this one or that 
one, a child or a beast, or a field of corn, it’s no mat- 
ter It dwines, whatever it is, dwmes and withers 
way. Or she’ll as soon kill outright. What did she 
4o to my dog, as was worth a deal to me ? Ah 1 And 
darker things yet Blacker and blacker. What did 
her mother die of ? People, she died of foxglove tea. 
Poisoned. Sexton’s missus is my witness Who 
nurses a sick mother? Her daughter. Well, people, 
what do you say to that 

There was a muttering in the crowd, a pushing and 
stirring to look at me, where I sat, struck dumb with 
astonishment But nobody said anything as yet 
Country folk dunna condemn m a hurry. They were 
ready tinder, but the flint wunna put to it yet 

“And darker,” says Grimble. “But first let Missis 
Sexton and Tivvyriah Sexton stand up and say m 
ne word if it be true. Now then. Aye or no ? ” 

“Aye!” said both together. 

“Now, why did that feckless young creature, Jancis 
Beguildy, and her poor child, meet their deaths m the 
water ? Who was alone in the house with them when 
it took place? Prudence Sarn! Why was Jancis 



THE BREAKING OF THE MERE 349" 

irksome to the witch ? Because she knew things She 
knew the devil's tricks that were played betwixt her 
father and the witch. And as she’d no money, she 
came to threaten to speak unless she was well paid, and 
that Prudence Sarn wouldna do So, when nobody was 
there but the weak, nesh little thing, trammelled with 
her baby, and Prue Sarn, who's as strong as a man, 
Jancis Beguildy met her death m the water ” 

There were murmurs again, but it would need^mort 
than the death of the wizard's daughter, who was in 
ill odour, to rouse them 

“But there’s worse," said Grimble. “When Sarn 
took up with Tivvyriah, his sister didna like it. She 
wanted to keep on being missus She wanted no other 
woman about the place. She'd got rid of her mother 
on that count Ah ! Liefer would she have no 
brother, friends, than have a married brother " 

A sigh went through the crowd, which must have 
numbered three hundred souls, all told, for it was 
big fair. 

“What did she do?" Grimble went on and the hate 
in his eyes when he looked at me was awful to see. 
“Why, when dusk drew on and the mist rose, and 
Sam was dipping water for the beasts, she did push 
him in, and then took the boat out to deceive Sexton, 
having put such dread upon the miller's children that 
they durstna say the truth " 

He waited a minute for the people to understand* 
Then he said — 

“Hare-shotten ! A witch! Three times a murder^ 
ess!” 

And on the instant Huglet roared out — 



35 ° 


PRECIOUS BANE 


“Suffer not a witch to live !” 

The flint was set to the tinder. A howl went up* 
There were cries of — 

“Tromple on her!” 

“Stone her!” 

“Let her drown !’ 

There was nobody to speak for me, except such as 
would not be heard. Sexton was gone home He 
was^a fair-minded man, and I think he’d have stood 
for me. Most of the people were strangers. Some 
were neither for me nor against me. 

Felena pushed her husband forrard, telling him to 
speak for me, but they shouted — 

“Thee’s in danger of damnation thyself, shepherd! 
How do ye pay yer rent?” 

They came on me like the rising of a winter flood. 
They sent some to the church for the ducking-stool. 
And still the voice of Huglet went roaring on. 

“Suffer not a witch to live !” 

I do think I fainted for very terror, for I knew no 
more, till I fell the chill water, and came up gasping, 
feeling the ropes that tied me to the ducking-stool, 
nd hearing the roaring of Huglet, which seemed lik 
the blaring of some great demon. 



C APT R seven: 


“ Open the Gates as wide as the sky , 

And lei the King come ridtng by” 

1 CAME to myself, and opened my eyes, wondering 
what the great tromplmg was, and thmging^it was 
Bendigo got loose. Then I remembered that Sexton 
had taken Bendigo away, so I looked to see what it 
might be, for all the waggon horses had been taken 
back to Plash Farm for the day. I looked up, and 
straightway I thought I must have died, and be now 
in Paradise. 

There, looking down upon me from his nag, with 
a dwelling gaze so blazing with life that, if I hadna 
been sure the other way, I should have thought he 
loved me, was none other than Kester Woodseaves. 
Older-seeming he was, a little, and his face even 
cleaner cut than afore, as if the soul had been busy 
chiselling at it. As for his eyes, all the light of heaven 
was in them, not to speak of a very pleasant touch of 
the old Adam. They took me in from head to foot, 
and I was at rest Ah* tied to the ducking-stool, in 
such sad case as no self-respecting woman could 
choose to be seen in by any man, let alone the man she 
loved, I was yet at rest. I cared for nothing now. I 
werrited about nothing Kester was here. Kester 
had gotten things in hand. What could ail me? Such 
was my faith, that though three hundred people, more 

35i 



PRECIOUS BANE 


35 2 

or less, were set against me, and only Kester for me, 
yet I knew that I was safe. I could have turned on 
my side and gone to sleep on that old ducking-stool 
as if it was a feather bed, so comfortable I was m my 
mind 

“Well,” says he at last, “well, Prue, my dear, you 
be m poor case !” 

And he gave a little smile, as much as to say, “But 
not fQjr long ! ” 

“I be,” I answered, and my voice was all of a 
tremble with joy, “m very poor case, Kester Woods- 
eaves ” 

He gave a look round, and then beckoned to Felena 
She darted forrard, as if she was his slave 

“Untie those, 'oot?” he said, pointing to the cords. 

As she was doing it, she whispered — 

“I dunna care what they do to me Fll work his 
will A man to die for !” 

“Is there any fellow here friend to me enough to 
catch a holt of my nag a minute he asks. 

Callard called out — 

“I will, and welcome ” 

Afore he got off, Kester looked all around, and he 
says — 

“Well, you were having a fine randy, I must say! 
Last time it was a little white ox Now it’s a woman 
whiter than lily I know very well who's egging you 
on ” 

Some hung their heads, but most were angered to 
have their fun stopped 

Kester went up to Grimble 

“You and me’s had ado afore, Grimble,” he says. 



OPEN THE GATES 


353 


“You're too mean and twisty to be treated as a man. 
If you dunna like the treatment you get, you can fight 
me any time you like. But you’re only good enough 
to laugh at Your nose is too long, Grimble It stirs 
about m everybody’s business ” 

And with that, he gave Grimble a tremenjous blow 
on the nose with his fist, and Grimble roared so, being 
a real coward, that the people couldna help but laugh. 
Then Kester went to Huglet and he said — ^ 
“You’re aboveboard all right. You dunna do 
things secret Man, I could hear you hollering even 
to Plash* Oot wrostle?” 

Now, for all he was so big, Huglet didna want to 
wrostle Pie hiver-hovered over it a good bit, for he 
knew Kester was a right proper wrestler. But many 
of the people knew nothing about Kester, and wouldna 
have cared if they had, for they only wanted a good 
day’s sport. This was what Kester had reckoned on. 

“A wrosthng match!” they called out, quite in a 
pleasant humour again, though what they’d be after, 
nobody could say. 

“Haw-whoop*” cries out old Callard, pretty well 
beside himself with excitement, and the children, see- 
ing Kester and remembering their lessons, folded then 
hands very primly over their stomachs and sang out — 
“Bull-baiting’s bad!” which would have made me 
laugh if I hadna been so uneasy in mind about Kester. 
“A ring* Make*a ring*” 

“Ah, chaps, there’s a nice smooth bit of turf there,” 
says Kester, pointing to a place close by the water. 
So they made a ring there Kester stripped off his 
coat and weskit. and Huglet took his off unwilling. 



354 


PRECIOUS BANE 


There were some hasty wagers made. Then they set 
to at it I thought Huglet would crush every one of 
Kesters bones, but no ? Kester was hard, and a prac- 
tised wrostler, and when Huglet seemed to have got 
him safe and sure, he was out of his grip, ready to 
start all over again A tuthree times Huglet bore him 
back till his one shoulder very near touched the 
ground, but each time he wrostled free, sharp and 
sudd _ , so it was only a foyle, and didna count I 
was in a' terror all the while that Huglet, by his great 
strength, would break Kester’s back, and I could see 
he’d dearly like to, for he’d forgotten everything but 
hate of the man who’d twice robbed him of his sport 
I wondered why Kester didna try, by some feint, to 
get him down, but Felena whispered — 

“He’s got summat in mind, Weaver has He’s 
tarrying for summat ” 

All the while Kester kept edging mgher to the 
water, and I wondered at it, for the mud was very 
slippery there 

Then, all in a minute, it was done Though how 
it was done, I never knew to this day Kester said it 
was a new throw he’d learnt in the city. Anyway, in 
the blink of an eye, Huglet was flung, not only onto the 
ground but clean out into the water. He went in 
souse, and when he struggled out, which he did with 
a deal of difficulty, for he’d gone all his length and 
the mud was very sticky, there was such a roar of 
laughter that he blenched And indeed he was a 
comical sight Miller, who stood by, smiled for the 
first time in anybody’s memory, as if to say, “Another 
kit-cat in the water !*’ 



OPEN THE GATES 


355 


Kester stood a minute, breathed with the tremen- 
jous heave, getting his wind. Then he took the rein 
from Callard, put foot m stirrup, and was in the 
saddle. 

“I'd lief,” says Felena, low, “I'd lief be on that 
saddle afore you, Weaver.” 

I never saw such worship as was in her green eyes. 

But he took no manner notice. 

‘True!” he said. 

I rose up 

‘‘Did I say at the harvesting at Sarn that it was to 
be toerts or frommet?” he asked me. 

“Toerts ” 

I could only whisper it 

“Come here then, Prue Woodseaves!” 

He stooped He set his arms about me. He lifted 
me to the saddle. It was just as in the dream I had 
And, as in that dream, Felena looked up, imploring, 
and he took no account of her, and the noise of the 
people sank away, the laughter, and the curses of 
Huglet and Grimble, the clapping of the Callard chil- 
dren and the high voice of Granfeyther Callard telling 
of a wrostling match nearly a century ago. All sank, 
all faded in the quiet air. There was only the evening 
wind lifting the boughs, like a lover lifting his maid's 
long hair 

“Tabor on, owd nag ! ” says Kester, and we were 
going at a canter towards the blue and purple moun- 
tains. 

“But no!” I said. “It mun be frommet, Kester. 
You mun marry a girl like a lily. See, I be hare' 
shotten T” 



356 


PRECIOUS BANE 


But he wouldna listen He wouldna argufy. Only 
after Fd pleaded agen myself a long while, he pulled 
up sharp, and looking down into my eyes, he said — ■ 
“No more sad talk! I’ve chosen my bit of Para- 
dise. ’Tis on your breast, my dear acquaintance !” 

And when he’d said those words, he bent his comely 
head and kissed me full upon the mouth. 

Here ends the story of Prudence Sam . 



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ADAMS, HENRY 
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CALDWELL, ERSKINE 
CARROLL, LEWIS 
CASANOVA, JACQUES 
CELLINI, BENVENUTO 
CERVANTES 
CHAUCER 
CHEKHOV, ANTON 
CHEKHOV, ANTON 
CICERO 
COLERIDGE 


The Education of Henry Adams 76 
A Comprehensive Anthology of 
American Poetry 101 
20th-Century American Poetry 127 
Selected Stories of 145 
Winesburg, Ohio 104 
Introduction to St Thomas Aquinas 259 
Introduction to Aristotle 248 
Politics 228 

Rhetoric and Poetics 246 
Selected Poetry of 1 60 
The Confessions of 263 
Pride and Prejudice and Sense and 
Sensibility 264 
Selected Writings of 256 
Cousin Bette 299 
Droll Stories 193 

Pere Gonot and Eugenie Grandet 245 

Zuleika Dobson 116 

Looking Backward 22 

The Old Wives’ Tale 184 

Creative Evolution 231 

Selected Poetry & Prose of 285 

The Decameron 71 

The Life of Samuel Johnson 282 

Jane Eyre 64 

Wuthenng Heights 106 

Selected Poetry of 198 

The Good Earth 15 

The Civilization of the Renaissance 
m Itai> 32 

The Life and Works of Beethoven 241 
Erewhon and Erewhon Revisited 136 
The Way of All Flesh 13 
The Selected Poetry of 195 
Don Juan 24 

The Gallic War and Other Writings of 
295 

God’s Little Acre 51 

Tobacco Road 249 

Alice m Wonderland, etc 79 

Memoirs of Casanova 165 

Autobiography of Cellini 150 

Don Quixote 174 

The Canterbury Tales 161 

B t Plavs by 171 

The Short Stones of 50 

The Basic Works of 272 

Selected Poetrv and Prose of 279 



COMMAGER, HENRY STEELE 
& KEVINS, ALLAN 
CONFUCIUS 
CONRAD, JOSEPH 
CONRAD, JOSEPH 
CONRAD, JOSEPH 
COOPER, JAMES FENIMORE 
CORNEILLE & RACINE 
CORVO, FREDERICK BARON 
CRANE, STEPHEN 
CUMMINGS, E. E. 

DANA, RICHARD HENRY 
DANTE 

DA VINCI, LEONARDO 
DEFOE, DANIEL 
DEFOE, DANIEL 

DESC TES, RENE 
DEWEY, JOHN 
DICKENS, CHARLES 
DICKENS, CHARLES 
DICKENS, CHARLES 
DICKINSON, EMILY 
DINESEN, ISAK 
DINESEN, ISAK 
DONNE, JOHN 


A Short History ot tile United S t 235 

The Wisdom of Confuci 7 

Lord Jim 186 

Nostromo 275 

Victory 34 

The Pathfinder 105 

Six Plays of Corneille and acme 194 
A History of the Borgias 192 
The Red Badge of Courage 130 
The Enormous Room 214 
Two Years Before the Mast 236 
The Divme Comed> 208 
The Notebooks of 156 
Moll Flanders 122 

Robinson Crusoe and A Journal of the 
Plague Year 92 
Philosophical Writings 43 
Human Nature and Conduct 173 
David Copperfield no 
Pickwick Papers 204 
A Tale of Two Cities 189 
Selected Poems of 25 
Out of Africa 23 
Seven Gothic Tales 54 
Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of 


12 


DOS PASSOS, JOHN 
DOSTOYEVSKY, FYODOR 
DOSTOYEVSKY, FYODOR 
DOSTOYEVSKY, FYODOR 
DOSTOYEVSKY, FYODOR 
DOUGLAS, NORMAN 
DOYLE, SIR ARTHUR CONAN 


Three Soldiers 205 
The Best Short Stories of 293 
The Brothers Karamazov 151 
Crime and Punishment 199 
The Possessed 55 
South Wind 5 

The Adventures and emoirs of Sh 
lock Holmes 206 


DREISER, THEODORE 
DUMAS, ALEXAND 
DUMAS, ALEXANDRE 
DU MAURIER, DAPHNE 
EMERSON, RALPH WALDO 
FAULKNER, WILLIAM 
FAULKNER, WILLIAM 
FAULKNER, WILLIAM 
FAULKNER, WILLIAM 
FAULKNER, WILLIAM 

FIELDING, HENRY 
FIELDING, HENRY 
FLAUBERT, GUSTAVE 
FORESTER, C S. 

FRANCE, ANATOL 
FRANK, ANNE 
FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN 
F UD, SIGMUND 
F OST, OBERT 
GALSWORTHY, JO 

Y 


Sister Carrie 8 
Camille 69 

The Three Musketeers 143 
Rebecca 227 

Essays and Other Wntm 91 
Absalom, Absalom! 271 
Go Down, Moses 175 
Light m August 88 
Sanctuary 61 

The Sound and the Fury d As I Lay 
Dying 187 

Joseph Andftws 117 

Tom Jones 185 

Madame Bovary 28 

The African Queen 102 

Penguin Island 210 

D y of a Young Girl 298 

Autobiography, etc 39 

The Interpretation of Dr 96 

The Poems of 242 

^Thc Apple Tree 

( Great odern Short S ri I ) 
Pro ess d Poverty 36 
Fa t 177 


GOGE, 

E 



GOGOL, NIKOLAI 
GOLDSMITH, OLIVE 

GRAVES, ROBERT 
GUNTHER, JOHN 
HACKETT, FRANCIS 

HAGGARD, H RIDE 
HARDY, THOMAS 
HARDY, THOMAS 
HARDY, THOMAS 
HARDY, THOMAS 
HART & KAUFMAN 
HARTE, BRET 
HAWTHORNE, NATHANIEL 
HEGEL 

HELLMAN, LILLIAN 
HENRY, O. 

HERODOTUS 

HOMER 

HOMER 

HORACE 

HOWELLS, WILLIAM DEAN 
HUDSON, W. H, 

HUGO, VICTOR 
HUXLEY, ALDOUS 
HUXLEY, ALDOUS 
HUXLEY, ALDOUS 
SEN, HENRIK 
IRVING, WASHINGTON 
JAMES, HENRY 
JAMES, HENRY 
JAMES, HENRY 
JAMES, HENRY 
JAMES, HENRY 
JAMES, WILLIAM 
JAMES, WILLIAM 
JEFFERS, ROBINSON 

JEFFERSON, THOMAS 
JOYCE, JAMES 
JUNG, C. G. 

KAFKA, FRANZ 

KANT 

KANT 

KAUFMAN & HART 
KEATS 

KIPLING, RUDYARD 
KOESTLER, ARTHU 
LAOTSE 

LAWRENCE, D H. 
LAWRENCE, D H 
LAWRENCE, D. H 
LEWIS, SINCLAIR 
LEWIS, SINCLAIR 
LONGFELLOW, HENRY W. 
LOUYS, PIERRE 
LUDWIG, EMIL 


Dead Souls 40 

The Vicar of Wakefield d other Writ- 
ings 291 
I, Claudius 20 
Death Be Not Proud 286 
The Personal History of Henry the 
Eighth 265 

She and King Solomon’s Mines 163 
Jude the Obscure 135 
The Mayor of Casterbndge 17 
The Return of the Native 121 
Tcss of the D’Urbcrvilles 72 
Six Plays by 233 
The Best Stones of 250 
The Scarlet Letter 93 
The Philosophy of 239 
Four Plays by 223 
Best Short Stories of 26 
The Persian Wars 255 
The Iliad 166 
The Odyssey 167 
The Complete Works of I4r 
The Rise of Silas Lapham 277 
Green Mansions 89 
The Hunchback of Notre D e 35 
Antic Hay 209 
Brave New World 48 
Point Counter Point 180 
Six Plays by 6 
Selected Writings of 240 
The Bostonians 16 
The Portrait of a Lady 107 
The Turn of the Screw 169 
Washington Square 269 
The Wings of the Dove 244 
The Philosophy of William James 114 
The Varieties of Religious Experience 70 
Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other 
Poems 1 18 

The Life and Selected Writings of 234 

Dubliners 124 

Basic Writings of 300 

Selected Stones of 283 

Critique of Pure Reason 297 

The Philosophy of 266 

Six Plays by 233 

The Complete Poetry d Selected Pr 
of 273 
Kim 99 

Darkness at Noon 74 
The Wisdom of 262 
The Rainbow 128 
Sons and Lovers 109 
Women in Love 68 
Dodsworth 252 
C s Timberlaae 221 
Poems 56 
Aphrodite 77 
Napoleon 95 



MACHIAVELLI 
MALRAUX, ANDRE 
MANN, THOMAS 

MARQUAND, JOHN P 
MARX, KARL 

MAUGHAM, W SOMERSET 
MAUGHAM, W SOMERSET 
MAUGHAM, W SOMERSET 
MAUGHAM, W SOMERSET 
MAUPASSANT, GUY DE 
MAUROIS, ANDRE 
McCORD, DAVID (Editor) 

MELVILLE, HERMAN 
MEREDITH, GEORGE 
MEREDITH, GEORGE 
MEREJKOWSKI, DMITRI 
MICHEHFR, JAMES A. 

MILTON, JOHN 

MOLI&RE 
MONTAIGNE 
MORIER, JAMES 

NASH, OGDEN 
NEVINS, ALLAN & 

COMMAGER, HENRY STEELE 
HEWMAN, CARDINAL JOHN H 
NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH 
NOSTRADAMUS 
ODETS, CLIFFORD 
O’HARA, JOHN 
O'HARA, JOHN 
O’NEILL, EUGENE 

O’NEILL, EUGENE 

PALGRAVE, FRANCIS (Editor) 

PARKER, DOROTHY 

PARKER, DOROTHY 

PARKMAN, FRANCIS 

PASCAL, BLAISE 

PATER, WALTER 

PEPYS, SAMUEL 

PERELMAN, S J 

PLATO 

PLATO 

POE, EDGAR ALLAN 
POLO, MARCO 
POPE, ALEXANDER 
PORTER, KATHERINE ANNE 
PORTER, KATHERINE ANNE 
PROUST, MARCEL 
PROUST, MARCEL 
PROUST, MARCEL 
PROUST, MARCEL 


The Prince and The Discourses 65 
Man’s Fate 33 

Death in Venice (in Great German 
Short Novels and Stories 108) 

The Late George Apley 182 
Capital and Other Writings 202 
The Best Short Stories of 14 
Cakes and Ale 270 
The Moon and Sixpence 27 
Of Human Bondage 176 
Best Short Stories 98 
Disraeli 46 

What Cheer An Anthology of Humor- 
ous and Witty Verse 190 
Moby Dick 119 
The Egoist 253 

The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 134 
The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci 138 
Selected Writings of 296 
The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose 
of John Milton 132 
Eight Plays by 78 
Selected Essays of 218 
The Adventures of Hajji Baba of 
Ispahan 289 

The Selected Verse of Ogden Nash 191 
A Short History of the United States 
235 

Apologia Pro Vita Sua 113 
Thus Spake Zarathustra 9 
Oracles of 81 
Six Plays of 67 
Appointment in Samarra 42 
Selected Short Stories of 21 1 
The Emperor Jones, Anna Christie and 
The Hairy Ape 146 

The Long Voyage Home Seven Plays 
of the Sea hi 
T he Golden Treasury 232 
The Collected Short Stories of 123 
The Collected Poetry of 237 
The Oregon Trail 267 
Pensees and The Provincial Letters 164 
The Renaissance 86 
Passages rrom the Diary of 103 
The Best of 247 
The Republic 153 
The Works oPPlato 181 
Selected Poetry and Prose 82 
The Travels of Marco Polo 196 
Selected Works of 257 
Flowering Judas 284 
Pale Horse, Pale Rider 45 
The Captive 120 
Cities of the Plain 220 
The Guermantes Way 213 
l^e Past Recaptured 278 


PROUST, MARCEL Swann’s Way 59 

PROUST. MARCEL The Sweet Cheat Gone 260 



PROUST, MARCEL 
RACINE & CORNEILLE 
READE, CHARLES 
REED, JOHN 
RENAN, ERNEST 
RICHARDSON, SAMUEL 
RODGERS AND 
HAMMERSTEIN 
ROSTAND, EDMOND 
ROUSSEAU, JEAN JACQUES 
RUNYON, DAMON 
RUSSELL, BERTRAND 
SAKI 

SALINGER, J D 
SANTAYANA, GEORGE 
SCHOPENHAUER 
SCHULBERG, BUDD 
SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM 
SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM 

SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM 

SHAW, BERNARD 
SHAW, BERNARD 

SHAW, IRWIN 
SHELLEY 

SMOLLETT, TOBIAS 
SPINOZA 

STEINBECK, JOHN 
STEINBECK, JOHN 
STEINBECK, JOHN 
STEINBECK, JOHN 
STENDHAL 
STERNE, LAURENCE 
STEWART, GEORGE R. 
STOKER, BRAM 
STONE, IRVING 
STOWE, HARRIET BEECHER 
STRACHEY, LYTTON 
SUETONIUS 
SWIFT, JONATHAN 

SYMONDS, JOHN A. 

TACITUS 

TENNYSON 

THACKERAY, WILLIAM 
THACKERAY, WILLIA 
THOMPSON, FRANCIS 
THOREAU, HENRY DAVID 
THUCYDIDES 
THURBER, JAMES 
TOLSTOY, LEO 
TROLLOPE, ANTHONY 
TROLLOPE, ANTHONY 
TURGENEV, IVAN 
TWAIN, MARK 

VEBLEN. THORSTEIN 


Within a Budding Grove 172 

Six Plays by 194 

The Cloister and the Hearth 62 

Ten Days that Shook the World 215 

The Life of Jesus 140 

Clarissa 10 

Six Plays by 200 
Cyrano de Bergerac 154 
The Confessions of 243 
F ous Stories 53 

Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell 137 
The Short Stories of 280 
The Catcher m the Rye 90 
The Sense of Beauty 292 
The Philosophy of Schopenhauer 52 
What Makes Sammy Run? 281 
Tragedies, 1, iA — complete, c 2'*Vols. 
Comedies, 2, 2A — complete, 2 vols 

Histories, 3 ."{-complete, 2 vols. 

Histories, Poems, 3A) r 
Four Plays by 19 
Saint Joan, Major Barbara, and 
Androcles and the Lion 294 
The Young Lions 112 
The Selected Poetry & Prose of 274 
Humphry Clinker 159 
The Philosophy of Spinoza 60 
In Dubious Battle 115 
The Grapes of Wrath 148 
Of Mice and Men 29 
Tortilla Flat 216 
The Red and the Black 157 
Tristram Shandy 147 
Storm 254 
Dracula 31 
Lust for Life 1 1 
Uncle Tom’s Cabin 261 
Eminent Victorians 212 
Lives of the Twelve Caesars 188 
Gulliver’s Travels and Other Wntm 
100 

The Life of Michelangelo 49 
The Complete Works of 222 
Selected Poetry of 230 
Henry Esmond 80 
Vanity Fair 13 1 
Complete Poems 38 
Walden and Other Writings 155 
The Complete Writings of 58 
The Thurber Carnival 85 
Anna Karenina 37 

Barchester Towers and The Warden 41 
The Eustace Diamonds 251 
Fathers and Sons 21 
A Connecticut Yankee m King Arthur’s 
Court 162 

The Theory of the Leisure Class 63 



VIRGIL 
VOLTAIRE 
WALPOLE, HUGH 
WARREN, ROBERT PENN 
WEBB, MARY 
WEIDMAN, JEROME 
WELLS, H G. 

WELTY, EUDORA 
WHARTON, EDITH 
WHITMAN, WALT 
WILDE, OSCAR 
WILDE, OSCAR 
WILDE, OSCAR 
WODEHOUSE, P J. 
WORDSWORTH 
YEATS, W. B. (Editor) 
YOUNG, G F 
ZIMM flftH, ALFRED 
ZOLA, EMILE 


The Acneid, Eclogues & Georgies 75 

Candide and Other Writings 47 

Fortitude 178 

All The King’s Men 170 

Precious Bane 219 

I Can Get It For You Wholesale 225 

Tono Bungay 197 

Selected Stories of 290 

The Age of Innocence 229 

Leaves of Grass 97 

Dorian Gray, De Profundis 125 

The Plays of Oscar Wilde 83 

Poems and Fairy Tales 84 

Selected Stories 126 

Selected Poetry of 268 

Irish Fairy and Folk Tales 44 

The Medici 179 

The Greek Co onwealth 207 

Nana 142 


SCELLANEOUS An Anthology of Irish Literature 288 

The Arabian Nights’ Entertain- 
ments 201 

Best Amer Humorous Short Stories 87 
Best Russian Short Stones 18 
Best Spanish Stories 129 
A Comprehensive Anthology of Am - 
can Poetry 101 

The Consolation of Philosophy 226 
Eight Famous Elizabethan Plays 94 
Eighteenth-Century Plays 224 
Famous Ghost Stories 73 
The Federalist 139 
Five Great Modern Irish Plays 30 
Fourteen Great Detective Stories 144 
Great German Short Novels and Stories 
108 

Great Modern Short Stones 168 
Great Tales of the American West 238 
The Greek Poets 203 
The Latin Poets 217 
The Making of Man An Outline of 
Anthropology 149 

The Makmg of Society An Outline of 
Sociology 183 
Medieval Romances 133 
The Modern^hbrary Dictionary 4 
New Voices in the American Theatre 
258 

Outline of Abnormal Psychology 152 

Outline of Psychoanalysis 66 

Restoration Plays 287 

Seven Famous Greek Plays 158 

The Short Bible 57 

Six Modern American Plays 276 

twentieth -Century Amer Poetry 127 



MODERN LIBRARY GIANTS 

A senes of full-sized library editions of boo\s that jo erly 
were available only in cumbersome and expensive sets . 
THE MODERN LIBRARY GIANTS REPRESENT A 
SELECTION OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST BOOKS 

These volumes contain from 600 to 1400 pages each 


Gi 

G2. 

g 3 . 

g 4 . 

05 

G6 

Gy. 

G8 


TOLSTOY, LEO War and Peace. 

BOSWELL, JAMES. Life of Samuel Johnson 
HUGO, VICTOR Les Miserables 

THE COMPLETE POEMS OF KEATS AND SHELLEY 
PLUTARCH’S LIVES (The Dryden Translation) 

GIBBON, EDWARD The Decline and Fall of the Romas 
Empire (Complete in three volumes) 


G9 GREAT VOICES OF THE REFORMATION 
Gio TWELVE FAMOUS RESTORATION PLAYS (1660-1820) 
(Congreve, Wycherley, Gay, Goldsmith, Shend , etc.) 
Gn JAMES, HENRY The Short Stories of 
G12. THE MOST POPULAR NOVELS OF SIR WALTER 


SCOTT (Quentin Durward, Ivanhoe and Kenilworth). 

G13 CARLYLE, THOMAS The French Revolution 
G14 BULFINCH’S MYTHOLOGY (Illustrated). 

G15. CERVANTES Don Quixote (Illustrated) 

G16 WOLFE, THOMAS Look Homeward, Angel. 

G17 THE POEMS AND PLAYS OF ROBERT BROWNING 
G18 ELEVEN PLAYS OF HENRIK IBSEN. 

G19 THE COMPLETE WORKS OF HOMER 

G20 THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN 

G21 SIXTEEN FAMOUS AMERICAN PLAYS 

G22 THIRTY FAMOUS ONE-ACT PLAYS. 

G23 TOLSTOY, LEO Anna Karenina 
G24 LAMB, CHARLES The Complete Works and Letters of 
G25 THE COMPLETE PLAYS OF GILBERT AND SULLIVAN. 
G26 MARX, KARL. Capital 

G27 DARWIN, CHARLES Origin of Species & The Descent of Man. 
G28 THE COMPLETE WORKS OF LEWIS CARROLL 
G29 PRESCOTT, WILLIAM H The Conquest of Mexico and 
The Conquest of Peru 

G30 MYERS, GUSTAVt^ History of the Great American 

Fortunes 

G31. FAMOUS SCIENCE-FICTION STORIES. ADVENTURES IN 
TIME AND SPACE 


G32 SMITH, ADAM The Wealth of Nations 

G33. CO LLI NS, WILKIE The Moonstone and The Woman in White. 

G34I NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH The Philosophy of Nietzsche. 

G35. BURY, J B A History of Greece 
G36. DOSTOYEVSKY, FYODOR The Brothers Karamazov 
G37. THE COMPLETE NOVELS AJSD SELECTED TALES O 
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE 
G38. ROLLAND, ROMAIN. Jean-Christophc 



G 3 9 the BASIC WRITINGS OF SIGMUND FREUD 
G40 THE COMPLETE TALES AND POEMS OF EDGAR 
ALLAN POE 

G41 FARRELL, JAMES T. Studs Lomgan 
G42 THE POEMS AND PLAYS OF TENNYSON 
G43 DEWEY, JOHN Intelligence in the Modem World John 
Dewey’s Philosophy 
G44 DOS PASSOS, JOHN. U. S A 
G45 STOIC AND EPICUREAN PHILOSOPHERS 
G46 A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF MODERN POETRY 
G47 THE ENGLISH PHILOSOPHERS FROM BACON TO 
MILL 

G48 THE METROPOLITAN OPERA GUIDE 

G49 TWAIN, MARK Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn 

G50 WHITMAN, WALT Leaves of Grass 

G5> r THE BEST-KNOWN NOVELS OF GEORGE ELIOT 

G52 JOYCE, JAMES Ulysses 

G53 SUE, EUGENE The Wandering Jew 

G54 AN ANTHOLOGY OF FAMOUS BRITISH STORIES 

G55 O’NEILL, EUGENE Nine Plays by 

G56 THE WISDOM OF CATHOLICISM 

G57 MELVILLE Selected Writings of Herman Melville 

G58 THE COMPLETE NOVELS OF JANE AUSTEN 

G59 THE WISDOM OF CHINA AND INDIA 

G60 DOSTOYEVSKY, FYODOR The Idiot 

G61. SPAETH, SIGMUND A Guide to Great Orchestral Music. 

G62 THE POEMS, PROSE AND PLAYS OF PUSHKIN 
G63 SIXTEEN FAMOUS BRITISH PLAYS 
G64. MELVILLE, HERMAN Moby Dick 
G65 THE COMPLETE WORKS OF RABELAIS 
G66 TPIREE FAMOUS MURDER NOVELS 
Before the Fact, Francis lies 
Trent's Last Case, E. C Bentley 
The House of the Arrow, A E W Mason 
G67. ANTHOLOGY OF FAMOUS ENGLISH AND AMERI- 
CAN POETRY 

G68 THE SELECTED WORK OF TOM PAINE 
G69 ONE HUNDRED AND ONE YEARS’ ENTERTAIN- 
MENT 

G70. THE COMPLETE POETRY OF JOHN DONNE AND 
WILLIAM BLAKE. 

G71 SIXTFEN FAMOUS EUROPEAN PLAYS 

G72 GREAT TALES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL. 

G 73 A SUB-TREASURY OF AMERICANJHUMOR 

G74 ST AUGUSTINE The City of God 

G 7 5 SELECTED WRITINGS OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 
G 7 6 GRIMM AND ANDERSEN, TALES OF 
G77 AN ANTHOLOGY OF FAMOUS AMERICAN STORIES 
G 7 8 HOLMES, OLIVER WENDELL The Mind and Faith of 
Justice Holmes 

G79 THE WISDOM OF ISRAEL 

G80 DREISER, THEODORE An American Tragedy. 

G81 AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF # MODERN AMERICAN HUMOR 
G82 FAULKNER, WILLIAM, The Faulkner Reader 




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without "THE AMERICAN 
COLLEGE DICTIONARY 


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